HOLLIDAYSBURG - The prosecutor of two former Altoona police officers charged with assault and the attempted cover-up of their alleged crimes wants a Blair County judge to bar possible trial testimony inferring that other officials in the police department may also have withheld information.
The squabble over admission of two memos written by a former Altoona detective indicating there may have been a "selective prosecution" of the officers led Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to set a Dec. 18 hearing on the prosecution's request.
The trial for Eric R. Kriner and Duane J. Eichenlaub was to be held in November but will now be held Jan. 10, Sullivan said.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael A. Sprow in his petition to Sullivan referred to defense claims that memos written by a city detective showed the officers were victims of a "selective prosecution," meaning they were charged while others involved were not.
The Harrisburg-based defense attorneys, Roger Laguna for Kriner and Lawrence Rosen for Eichenlaub, in February asked that the cover-up charges be dismissed.
But Sullivan refused to dismiss the cover-up charges.
The judge ruled in September that the memos, written by now-retired Altoona detective Craig Zahradnik, were not supported by "credible evidence that others engaged in conduct similar to the defendants."
At least one of the defense attorneys has indicated he intends to introduce the memos at trial, and that led to Sprow's request to prohibit the issue of selective prosecution from being raised during the trial.
A selective prosecution claim is a not a legal defense to the obstruction charges, Sprow said. Even if the memos were relevant, they would raise the "danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay in proceedings and/or waste of time," he said.
Allowing the alleged evidence of selective prosecution into the trial would cause the case to "deteriorate into a lengthy sideshow that would confuse the true issues in this case [whether the defendants committed the crimes with which they were charged]," Sprow contended.
The state has fought to prevent the release of the memos, which are now under a court-ordered seal, since they became available to the defense.
The Attorney General's Office summarized the memos noting they stated that other members of the Altoona department's command staff also conspired to obstruct the state police investigation.
The prosecution said it put "no weight or credibility" on Zahradnik's allegations, noting that he had a "strong bias" against the department and its command staff.
Zahradnik presently is under investigation for the alleged harassment of his former wife, charges that also have been referred to the AG's office for continued investigation and possible prosecution.
The ongoing story that has now engulfed the city police department began early on Memorial Day 2010, when Eichenlaub, upset by an an affront to his wife at Pellegrine's Lounge in Altoona, is supposed to have followed the alleged perpetrator into a bar restroom. Kriner joined Eichenlaub and the two are charged with beating the man, Herman "Bo" Lardieri III.
The two are charged also with beating up an older man, Earl Eshelman, 60, who came to Lardieri's aid.
In the aftermath of the restroom brawl, Eichenlaub and Kriner were charged with getting colleagues to cover up their involvement.
Both former officers have entered not guilty pleas to the charges. Lardieri was sentenced to state prison for lying to a statewide grand jury about events that night.