HOLLIDAYSBURG - An Altoona man in court for the third time in three years for assault will receive one more chance to change his ways or face time in a state correctional institution, according to a ruling Thursday afternoon by Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva.
The judge imposed a sentence of nine to 18 months in Blair County Prison on Lance J. Phillips, 25, for two counts of simple assault stemming from an after-hours brawl July 28 near the Black and Gold Tavern in Altoona. During that assault, Phillips relentlessly punched another man even though he was on the pavement and also punched a female who attempted to get him off the man.
While the minimum sentence may seem like a long time, Phillips has already been in Blair County Prison for nine months. He will not be released from prison until a probation violation hearing is held.
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery wanted a stiffer sentence for Phillips because he has been convicted three times in the past three years for assaults after a night of drinking.
A jury found Phillips and a brother guilty of simple assault for beating a man in the parking lot of the United Veterans Association in 2010, an offense for which he received probation.
He received six months for assault of a man after a night out at the Black and Gold Tavern in February 2010. He was on bail from the first offense when that assault occurred. The 55-year-old male victim in that case needed a hip transplant after he was stomped by Phillips.
Phillips was still on probation for that offense when he was arrested for the 2012 assaults of the man and woman after an argument that started at the tavern but extended into a nearby parking lot.
Kopriva devoted almost two hours to the hearing, reviewing photographs of two of the victims and a sentencing statement by Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron who imposed the six-month jail sentence on Phillips. Milliron, in his sentence, concluded Phillips was a "danger to society."
The defense, led by Blair County Public Defender James DiFrancesco, asked for a time-served sentence because of the changes Phillips has made in his life during the last nine months.
His future mother-in-law, psychologist Beverly Hmel, asked the court for mercy, stating Phillips realizes his behavior "caused harm to someone else." She said he suffered a painful childhood, exposed to domestic violence. She said he transferred his fear to aggression and tried to ease his pain through alcohol.
Hmel told Kopriva that Phillips would be coming home to a family that "loves him and needs him."
The judge pointed out that Phillips had the same people around him throughout the past three years, but that didn't deter his drinking and violence. Hmel suggested, "Maybe we didn't reach out enough."
Phillips told Kopriva that he has taken anger management and addiction courses in jail to address his problems.
He said he learned that "acting on impulse is not the thing to do. It takes a bigger man to walk away."
Kopriva noted that Phillips has become part of Reformers Unanimous, an in-prison ministry program headed by Hollidaysburg resident Kent Fluke.
Fluke said when Phillips is released he will attend Friday night meetings intended to address his addiction and other problems.
Instead the judge decided to put Phillips on what she called a "short leash."
Kopriva also put Phillips on two years' probation, and said a violation of terms of probation would mean a sentence to a state correctional institution.
As the judge left the bench, a member of Phillips' family called out, "Thank you, Judge Kopriva."