HOLLIDAYSBURG - A judge has denied a defense request to certify a case involving the alleged improper purchase of a gun used in a triple homicide to the Superior Court for review prior to trial.
The unusual request was presented to Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle 10 days ago by the attorney for Brenda Shultz, 52, who allegedly bought a gun used in the killings of three Frankstown Township residents last December.
State police killed the shooter, Jeffrey Lee Michael, during a confrontation that occurred after he had killed Kimberly A. Scott while she was decorating a church for a Christmas party, William H. Rhodes Jr., and Rhodes' father-in-law, Kenneth D. Lynn.
State police arrested Shultz because she had purchased a handgun used by Michael from a Hollidaysburg gun shop.
Police contend that Shultz made a "straw purchase" of the firearm, meaning she lied on state and federal registration papers that she would be the "actual purchaser" of the firearm.
Police had charged that she bought the .45-caliber weapon for Michael under the mistaken premise he could not own a gun due to a past protection-from-abuse order.
As it turned out, the PFA order was not in effect when the gun was purchased in 2011, which is the crux of the argument presented to the judge by defense attorney Lucas Kelleher of Altoona.
In a Dec. 3 petition, Kelleher said Shultz, if she purchased the gun for Michael, did not make a "materially false statement" on the gun applications because Michael was legally qualified to own a gun.
Kelleher contended that Doyle should forward the question of the legality of the purchase to the Pennsylvania Superior Court prior to trial because the U.S. Supreme Court in January will be hearing arguments on the issue in a case titled Bruce James Abramski Jr. v. The United States.
Doyle stated in her opinion Thursday that the Superior Court has already ruled the state has a right to regulate the possession and distribution of firearms, and that the General Assembly had the right to authorize prosecution of anyone making materially false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm in the state.
"Providing false information as to the identity of the actual purchaser of a firearm hinders the Commonwealth's interest in collecting accurate information about who possesses a specific weapon and to whom it has been distributed," she stated.
She ruled that any false statement involving the purchase of a firearm is "material."
"We can imagine scenarios in which it is in society's best interest to be able to quickly and accurately track down a gun's owner.
"This is true regardless of whether the person to whom a specific gun is transferred is legally allowed to possess it, but its importance is amplified by the distinct possibility that a firearm may be used to commit crimes," Doyle stated.
Her decision rejecting a pretrial appeal means the Shultz case could go to trial early next year.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.