HOLLIDAYSBURG - Thomas Drass, formerly of Hollidaysburg RD 3, testified Thursday that he thinks his 20- to 40-year sentence for killing his grandfather in 2005 is unfair, and he used a recent local murder case to drive home his point.
Drass appeared before Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan to request a reduction in his sentence because he said the shooting of his "pap" in January 2005 was an accident.
He ended up pleading to third-degree murder in 2006, down a notch from the first-degree verdict District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio first proposed, but he claims now his sentence is not fair.
"They gave me 20 to 40 years for an accident," said Drass when he testified Thursday by video conference from the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, Centre County.
Then he pointed out that a "guy" recently was sentenced to seven to 14 years for killing and burying his "wife."
Drass was referring to a February sentence imposed on Kenneth Leighty of Altoona who, like Drass, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the death of his daughter-in-law, Sherry Leighty.
The Leighty case came to light last year when state police received a tip Kenneth Leighty had killed the young mother of three 13 years before and buried her on a Huntingdon County property that he owned.
For all those years, nobody knew Sherry Leighty's whereabouts.
Kenneth Leighty eventually showed police where she was buried in exchange for the seven- to 14-year sentence.
Drass said Thursday his trial attorney became angry with him when he initially questioned his 20- to 40-year sentence and stated that was why he entered his plea.
Consiglio pointed out that Drass's recent request for a lighter sentence should be dismissed by Sullivan on its face because a post-conviction petition must be filed within a year of the Supreme Court's final refusal of an appeal.
He said Drass had filed his latest request two years too late.
Drass' Hollidaysburg attorney, Paul M. Puskar, asked Drass why it took him so long to file the new appeal.
He said he had been transferred from one prison to another.
He said he couldn't read and admitted he suffers from mental health problems. He said a prison friend told him that he had been "railroaded" when his attorney convinced him to accept the third-degree plea and sentence.
Drass went on to explain his mental health condition.
He said he hears voices. He said he can't sleep, and explained he suffered from hallucinations.
He is helped "a little bit" by the medication he takes.
But, he explained, his medication makes him "incompetent."
When asked what he thinks should have occurred with respect to his case, he answered: "Take it to trial. That's what should have happened. It was an accident. I swear on everything I love, it was an accident. I didn't mean to kill him. He's my pap. I used to go hunting with him."
He claimed the day of the killing he was "delusional."
Puskar asked him if he was "competent" on Thursday. Drass replied, "I'm trying."
Consiglio responded that Drass' argument had been heard before and been rejected by the state appeals courts.
Sullivan will review the case and then make a ruling.
Drass was convicted of killing Dwayne Chamberlain of Hollidaysburg RD 3.
He had purchased a 12-gauge shotgun that day and was at the Chamberlain home to show it to his grandfather, who was sitting in the living room.
Drass contends the weapon fired accidentally.
He has an ally in his attempt to have his sentenced reduced.
His grandmother, Kathryn Chamberlain, was in court Thursday.
Drass asked if she could testify on his behalf, but Sullivan denied the request.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-9468.