HOLLIDAYSBURG - A Blair County judge denied a defense request for a mistrial Tuesday morning in the Rodney "Rocco" Williams case, despite testimony implying the accused has a criminal record.
Attorney Philip M. Masorti asked Judge Daniel J. Milliron to declare a mistrial and to eventually make a decision barring Williams from further prosecution because of "prosecutorial misconduct."
Milliron found that while the question that set off the courtroom brouhaha was inappropriate, it had no "probative value," meaning it didn't add to the prosecution's case against Williams, 37, of Baltimore.
He gave the jury what he called a "curative instruction," telling jurors to ignore the question and answer.
Williams is accused of being part of a drug ring operating out of the Corner Bar and Grille, 1001 Eighth Ave., as well as supplying its cocaine.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman late Monday was questioning Attorney General's Agent Albert Adams about the inner workings of the drug ring. Gorman asked whether Williams and other people charged in the drug ring would have been permitted to visit the group's alleged leader in state prison.
Adams answered, "They wouldn't have been able to. ... If you have a criminal history or prior felony arrests, etc., they restrict you from visiting the people in there."
That revealed that Williams has a criminal record.
Prosecutors and police officers, except in rare instances, are barred from revealing that a suspect on trial has a criminal past because the information could sway the jury.
"How bad does it have to get before a citizen is entitled to relief?" Masorti asked Milliron, imploring the judge to declare a mistrial on the second day of the case.
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks denied that the question and the agent's answer were so serious that they would result in prejudice to Williams.
Weeks said Williams' attorneys, including Masorti and Robert Donaldson, on Monday told the jury Williams admitted being the source for 368 grams of cocaine bound for Altoona on Nov. 4, 2011. The drugs were intercepted by police during an Interstate 99 traffic stop.
Masorti said he doubted whether Gorman's question was an innocent mistake, noting the veteran prosecutor is a former Blair County district attorney and an experienced drug prosecutor for the attorney general.
He said Williams was not involved in the Altoona drug ring.
"He was not on that team," he said, and he accused the prosecution of trying to shore up a weak case by presenting "nonessential, irrelevant information."
"This is your opportunity to say 'mistrial,'" Masorti told Milliron. "I am asking you to draw the line. It is, 'We can't accept this from the Attorney General's Office.'"
After talking to the jury, the judge ordered that the trial continue.
Jurors then heard from agents Adams and Andrew Sproat as well as the former owner of the Corner Bar, Brian Stroh.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.