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Top court orders bite mark review

Ross homicide retrial on hold

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is directing the state Superior Court to review the validity of bite mark evidence for the pending murder retrial of Paul Aaron Ross, charged with kill­­i­ng a Hollidaysburg woman in 2004.

In a one-paragraph order issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the Superior Court for an interlocutory or pretrial appeal, as certified almost a year ago by Blair County Judge Jolene G. Kopriva.

The high court’s action means that Ross’ pending murder retrial, initially ordered in 2011 based on what the Superior Court concluded were trial errors, will remain on hold pending legal arguments for and against the use of bite mark evidence in the retrial.

In Ross’ first trial conducted in 2005, Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio presented the jury with a photograph of a bite mark on the body of 26-year-old Tina S. Miller. Her body was found partially submerged near a boat launch at Canoe Creek State Park in Frankstown Township. Her mouth and wrists were bound with duct tape. The coroner’s office listed cause of death as strangulation and drowning.

Testimony in the first trial indicated that Ross and Miller had been at a private party on the night before she was found dead. The bite mark on her body was deemed to be “consistent” with Ross’ bite, but not conclusory.

In preparation for the retrial, defense attorneys Thomas M. Dickey and Thomas Hooper have collected information about scientific advancements questioning the validity of bite mark evidence.

They maintain that it should be barred from use in a second trial, while Consiglio has countered their arguments with reports from organizations that remain supportive of bite marks as evidence.

Before retiring from working daily as a county judge, Kopriva considered the arguments over bite mark evidence and ruled that prosecutors should be allowed to present it during the retrial for a jury to consider. But Kopriva also certified the matter for an interlocutory appeal, so a higher court could provide guidance on a subject that could influence the outcome of the case.

While Kopriva acknowledged that an interlocutory appeal would keep Ross’ retrial on hold, she also acknowledged that the matter deserved appellate review before the county devoted time and effort to conduct a second trial. She reasoned that if a second trial moved forward without an interlocutory appeal, that second trial would likely generate a subsequent appeal and possibly lead to a third trial.

The 46-year-old Ross remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Mahonoy in Frankville, Schuylkill County.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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