HOLLIDAYSBURG - A Hollidaysburg area man who shot and killed his grandfather more than nine years ago will not receive a reduction in his 20- to 40-year sentence because, among other things, he was almost four years too late in filing the petition for a review of his case, a Blair County judge ruled Wednesday.
Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan last Thursday heard testimony from Thomas Scott Drass, 33, that the shooting of his grandfather, Dwayne Chamberlain of Hollidaysburg RD, in early 2005 was an accident.
Drass complained that the sentence he received in 2007 was not fair and that he should not have received such a stiff sentence for what was an accident.
But when it came time for trial, Drass said he was convinced by his attorney to enter a guilty plea to third-degree murder.
Sullivan sentenced him to 20 to 40 years in a state correctional institution, the maximum sentence for third-degree murder.
Drass, housed at the Rockview State Correctional Institution, initially had been charged with murder in the first degree and could have received a life sentence had he gone to trial.
In a 2013 petition, Drass asked that his sentence be reduced to a minimum of 10 years.
But Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio took the position that Drass should have filed such a request - a petition under the Post Conviction Relief Act - no longer than a year after his initial appeals were concluded by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
His initial appeal was dismissed as of Sept. 5, 2008, which means his present appeal should have been filed no later than Sept. 5, 2009.
It was filed July 24, 2013.
The law has exceptions to the one-year rule, Sullivan summarized.
For instance, a late appeal can be based on newly discovered evidence, which came to light after trial. It has to be new evidence and not just an accumulation of evidence already presented to a fact-finder. The new evidence must also have an impact to the point that a different verdict likely may result if a new trial is granted.
Drass also stated he suffered from mental health problems to the point that he hears voices.
He said also he cannot read, another factor in his late filing.
His medication, he said, makes him incompetent.
He concluded his testimony by saying he should have had a trial, and he said: "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."
These facts, Sullivan said, were known and cannot be considered new evidence.
He did not show the evidence was anything cumulative to what he had already contended in the past.
Sullivan pointed out Drass' trial attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ted Krol, testified Drass was competent when discussing his case, and the judge noted psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Antonowicz of UPMC Altoona, found
Drass competent to stand trial.
"In summary," Sullivan wrote in a five-page opinion, "we specifically find that this court lacks jurisdiction as the defendant's pro se PCRA petition is untimely in nature."
Chamberlain's death occurred when Drass went to his grandfather's house to show him a newly purchased 12-gauge shotgun.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.