The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has cleared the way for a retrial of Paul Aaron Ross, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a Hollidaysburg woman more than nine years ago.
Ross, 41, was arrested not long after the body of Tina S. Miller was found partially submerged in the lake at Canoe Creek State Park on the morning of June 27, 2004.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but a Blair County jury, which found Ross guilty of first-degree murder, recommended life behind bars. He is serving his sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy. Two years ago, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that Ross should receive a new trial because his attorney, Thomas M. Dickey, of Altoona did not have enough time to prepare his defense.
A second reason for a new trial, the judges said, was that the trial judge had permitted improper testimony from several of Ross' former female acquaintances, indicating he was physically abusive toward women.
The appeals court concluded that the "bad acts" testimony should not have been permitted.
Since the ruling granting a new trial, Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio has asked the Superior Court to reconsider its decision.
When the Superior Court rejected the request, Consiglio asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to review the decision.
The state's highest court now has issued an order stating, "The petition for allowance of appeal is denied."
The order was received locally this week.
Although Consiglio was not available for comment Friday, Deputy Assistant District Attorney Wade Kagarise confirmed that the Supreme Court had rejected a review of the Superior Court decision, but he said the DA's office has 14 days to file a request for reconsideration, which it likely will do.
Earlier this year, Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva reopened the Ross case to take testimony that challenged Dickey's contention that he did not have time to prepare his defense. That testimony was sent to the Supreme Court. Kagarise said the Blair DA will ask for reconsideration by the Supreme Court based on that testimony, which was only filed with the court in the spring.
Dickey, contacted Friday, questioned whether the Supreme Court would reconsider its decision not to review the Superior Court ruling, noting that it only takes three of the seven justices to grant a review.
This means, he said, that at the most, only two of the judges were in favor of a review. If the Ross case is being returned to Blair County for a new trial, court rules state it should take place within 120 days, but Dickey said he would not be prepared to retry Ross within that short time period.
He said he wants time to prepare a defense this time around, to look closely at the evidence and to have a chance to review the case with experts - before the trial, not during the trial as he said occurred when Ross was tried in 2005.
Kagarise said if there is a retrial, the death penalty for Ross will be back on the table. Dickey agreed that under court rules, a suspect who is to be retried faces all the original charges.
But, he argued, the jury rejected the death penalty the first time around, and he said, "I hope it [death penalty] wouldn't be used just as retaliation because we got a new trial."
The victim in the case, Miller, was 26 years old.
She met Ross during a party the night of her death, and testimony showed Ross and Miller were dropped off at Canoe Creek State Park following the party.