HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan has rejected a request for a new trial from former Hollidaysburg resident Sean Louis Allen, 24, who is serving life in prison for killing a Penn State Altoona student.
Harrisburg defense attorney Joshua D. Lock argued that Allen's Blair County lawyers were "ineffective" during his trial and should have fought harder to exclude crime scene and autopsy photographs showing the victim, Margo "Maggie" Elizabeth Davis, 19.
Davis' body was found in the trunk of her car in early March 2009, within 500 feet of townhouse where Allen lived with his father.
Sullivan concluded the many photos "assisted the jurors in their understanding of the evidence."
The judge said the jurors had a right to review the photos and to observe the injuries the young woman suffered during what state police considered a sexual assault when Davis arrived at Allen's home for what was supposed to have been a short visit during the early morning of March 3, 2009.
Sullivan ruled that photos were relevant in view of the issues raised during the trial, including the question whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Davis was the victim of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing, and second-degree murder, which is a killing in the commission of a rape.
The jury from York County found Allen guilty on both charges.
Allen was sentenced to two life terms and is now housed at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy.
In late May, Sullivan heard challenges to the effectiveness of Allen's trial attorneys, Thomas K. Hooper and Steven P. Passarello.
The hearing covered not only the photographs but also a controversial epithet referring to Allen's religion that came out during the trial and the failure of the defense to challenge a search warrant that led police to collect bags of evidence from Allen's house.
The judge dismissed the challenges, which clears the way for a review of the case by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Police, upon finding Davis's body in her car, were able to trace her relationship with Allen in the weeks preceding the killing and her movements on March 3 when she left her Altoona home to meet with Allen at his home by tracing text messages and calls between the two.
Allen said she was at his home that night to buy marijuana, but police believed his purpose in having her come to the home was to assault her.
A text message was introduced into the trial by the prosecution, led by District Attorney Richard Consiglio, in which Allen referred to himself as "super Jew."
The defense contended the use of the text was "not necessary for any legitimate issue related to [Allen's] identification" and was inflammatory.
The prosecution contended the epithet was not in reference to religion but was Allen's way of asking for sex, particularly based on her texted answer to him in which she said, "You're really dumb," and "You're really annoying me."
Sullivan stated, "We find that such reference was sexual in nature and not a religious reference."
He said the statement by Allen ended with "lol," or in text language "laugh out loud."
The judge said that the defense attorneys did not make an issue of the comment and repetition of the comment by Consiglio during closing arguments in an effort to avoid focusing on it.
Sullivan stated the arguments that use of the statement was a slur on the Jewish populations of Blair and York counties was "insulting and demeaning to the 12 sequestered jurors who rendered a verdict in this case."
The judge stated, "We are fully satisfied that their verdict was fair and impartial, and wholly supported by the overwhelming incriminating evidence in the case."
Sulllivan also found no error with the trial attorneys for not objecting to the issuance of a search warrant for the Allen home where police found blood-stained jeans, garbage bags with soiled paper towels, the victim's sweatshirt, her cellphone, gloves with blood stains, a flashlight believed to have been used to strike the victim on the head and a comforter containing blood stains.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.