A Baltimore native on death row for killing his Altoona girlfriend nine years ago sucker punched his attorney at the conclusion of a hearing Monday morning in Blair County Court.
Attorney Tim Burns was in the process of standing up at the defense table after the hearing and beginning to turn toward his client, Andre Staton, 50, at which point Staton swung his cuffed hands in baseball bat fashion, slamming the cuffs and his fists into Burns' forehead and eyes.
As three sheriff's deputies pounced on Staton, Burns collapsed, falling hard onto a wooden chair, breaking it and then crumpling to the floor.
The stunned attorney remained on the floor for several minutes while Blair County parole and probation officer, Pat Gates, an emergency medical technician, came to his aid.
Burns complained at first he couldn't see out of his left eye. His sight returned, but objects were blurry, he said.
Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle told deputies to remove Staton from her courtroom. Staton is appealing his death penalty sentence for the stabbing murder of Beverly Yohn on Feb. 25, 2004.
Staton was convicted of first-degree murder on May 2, 2006, and was sentenced to death on June 1, 2006.
"I was prepared to go to battle for this guy," said Burns as he regained his composure.
Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio expressed the same stunned reaction.
"There's this lawyer fighting for him [Staton], and he does that?"
Staton was upset about two rulings made by Doyle.
Burns requested that Doyle recuse herself as the judge in Staton's post-trial proceedings, contending that Doyle signed a temporary protection-from-abuse order against Staton in 2004, barring him from seeing Yohn.
Yohn contended Staton was violent toward her and she lived in fear of him.
Just days after the PFA order was issued, Staton broke into the home where Yohn and her children were staying and repeatedly plunged a knife into her back until it broke. She died as a result of the stabbing.
The PFA violation was used in his trial as an aggravating circumstance, allowing the jury to recommend the death penalty.
Burns asked the judge to recuse herself because her knowledge of the case could at least have the "appearance" that she could not fairly or impartially preside over Staton's appeal.
The judge rejected the request, pointing out that it was the jury, not her, who found the PFA violation was an aggravating circumstance.
Staton on Monday also told Doyle be wanted to represent himself. Burns said he was "very opposed" to Staton representing himself, concluding Staton "had no legal competency" to represent himself.
Doyle rejected Staton's request, which seemed to irritate him.
Burns said Staton may not like his representation and may not like him, but he said he would continue to "zealously" represent Staton, "Trying to prevent him from being put to death."
Staton began to argue with Doyle, calling Burns' recusal motion "a disgrace."
He then told the judge several times he wanted to withdraw his appeals and undergo lethal injection.
"I'm done with it," he said, speaking of his appeals.
Speaking of his execution, Staton said, "Let's get it done."
Burns, although mentally alert, was wobbly and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He was later released.
State police at Hollidaysburg will investigate the incident.
Consiglio was angry about what occurred, stating, "This is the problem of not executing these people in this state." He was referring to the fact that Pennsylvania, while it has the death penalty, doesn't apply it.
"This guy deserves no rights whatsoever. He
doesn't deserve the rights of an animal. He sucker punched a guy. The victim has no chance to react. He's nothing but a coward a coward who would never, could never beat up anybody in a fair fight," said Consiglio said.
Burns will remain as a Staton's attorney until he files a petition requesting his release.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.