Blair County judge explains decision to Superior Court

Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron has sent an opinion to the Pennsyl­vania Superior Court explaining why he rejected a petition from an Altoona woman challenging her conviction for retaliation against a witness.

The case involves Mandy Sue Stine, 28, who was charged in 2016 with making threats to a police confidential informant who she said was responsible for her prior arrest on drug charges.

According to the charges, Stine happened to be in a Blair County courtroom at the same time as the male informant, although they were involved in separate cases.

She reportedly called the informant a “snitch,” stated she knew where he lived and said she intended to burn down his house and to “hurt him.”

After court, the informant was driving to Altoona from the Hollidaysburg courthouse and noticed Stine driving closely behind him.

Later that day, she drove by his house, according to testimony.

Stine was charged with terroristic threats, retaliation against a witness and harassment.

A jury found her not guilty of terroristic threats but guilty of retaliation. Milliron found her not guilty of the summary charge of harassment.

He sentenced Stine to one to 23 months in the Blair County Prison.

Blair County Assistant Public Defender Edward J. Ferguson appealed Stine’s conviction to the Superior Court. In late April, a three-judge panel put a hold on the case until it received an explanation from Milliron on why he rejected her post-trial petition to overturn the verdict.

The defense charged that the evidence was not sufficient to convict Stine of witness retaliation.

The judge stated that the retaliation statute requires “repeated threatening conduct” to sustain a conviction.

The judge ruled that Stine’s actions in the courtroom, calling the informant a snitch, threatening to hurt him and burn down his house, taken as one collective threat, was followed by her tailgating his vehicle and later the same day driving by his home on two occasions.

“Thus this court believes this repeated threatening conduct is sufficient to sustain a conviction,” Milliron stated in his opinion.

The defense also complained that the investigating police officer, Mark Lingafelt of Hollidaysburg, violated a federal rule that mandates the prosecution provide the defense with evidence that may prove innocence.

In the Stine case, the defense claimed this rule was violated because the officer did not recover an in-court surveillance tape of the alleged confrontation that would have helped the defense.

Milliron rejected this argument, pointing out the defense never requested the tape and the federal rule does not require the courts “to serve in a role of ‘super prosecutor’ and require district attorneys to handle cases in a certain way.”

The judge added that the police officer was unaware of a surveillance tape of courtroom activities.

In a third issue, the defense contended a confidential informant was not a “witness” under retaliation statute, and therefore the law did not apply in the Stine case.

Milliron concluded, after citing dictionary definitions of “witness” and “confidential informant,” that the designations “are not mutually exclusive,” and, he stated, in a majority of cases, “a confidential informant plays the dual role of a witness.”