HOLLIDAYSBURG - The attorney for former Altoona police officer Duane James "D.J." Eichenlaub said his client was only trying to defend himself when he attacked a patron in a city bar more than two years ago.
The claim by defense attorney Lawrence J. Rosen of Harrisburg came during jury selection Monday in Eichenlaub's case in Blair County Court. It took four hours to pick a jury for the trial, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 22.
Eichenlaub, 30, faces assault and cover-up charges that stemmed from a fight Memorial Day morning 2010 in the men's restroom at Pellegrine's Lounge. He and his wife were at the bar after a wedding reception for a fellow officer when his wife complained about being improperly touched by another patron.
He and fellow officer, Eric R. Kriner, 31, followed the patron, Herman "Bo" Lardieri, 40, into the restroom. The two were charged with beating Lardieri. Kriner recently pleaded guilty to a charge of simple assault.
Eichenlaub was also charged with aggravated assault in the beating of another patron, Earl Eshelman, 60, who was already in the restroom and who said he was attempting to pull Eichenlaub off Lardieri. Eshelman was seriously injured.
Rosen told prospective jurors that Eichenlaub was defending himself when he attacked Eshelman.
Rosen asked members of the jury panel if they could impartially consider the self-defense argument and hold the prosecution to its duty of proving that Eichenlaub did not act in self defense before rejecting it.
No juror indicated he could not consider the defense.
Deputy Attorney General Christopher Jones asked if the jurors could give the prosecution a fair hearing, noting that the case would not involve scientific evidence like fingerprints or DNA but would instead center around the testimony of witnesses to the events.
The Eichenlaub jury will include a main panel of 12 people plus six alternates, according to Blair County Court Administrator Janice Meadows.
A similarly-sized jury was picked Monday in a second high-profile case: a defendant in the "Operation Last Call" drug ring in which kilograms of cocaine from Baltimore were being sold on the streets of Altoona.
Accused drug dealer Jermaine Samuel, 32, according to court documents, was considered a major player in a drug ring that brought large amounts of cocaine to Altoona. That ring allegedly was led by Damion Floyd of Baltimore, who is charged with running the operation from the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill where he was serving a drug sentence.
Samuel was to be tried with three other defendants: Michael L. Pendleton, Glen S. Piner II and Stephen M. Piner.
Judge Daniel J. Milliron convened a hearing in a witness room outside his courtroom to take a plea from Pendleton.
Pendleton, 46, who was charged as a street dealer, entered pleas to seven counts of possession with intent to deliver, one count of conspiracy and one count of participation in a corrupt organization. He was sentenced to seven to 20 years behind bars.
Milliron took the plea in an out-of-the-way room so it wouldn't taint the jury panel for the Samuel case.
Glen Piner could not go to trial Monday because his attorney wasn't available, and Stephen Piner was removed from the trial list because on Friday he appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court because Judge Elizabeth Doyle rejected his pretrial motions.
That left Samuel to go it alone.
His trial is expected to last two weeks, starting Jan. 22. Milliron told the jury that he would run the testimony daily into the early evening hours to make sure the case ended within the two-week period.