Appeals court upholds jail time in prisoner assault
A state appeals court panel has refused to void the jail time handed down to a Blair County Prison inmate who was one of six inmates involved in a brutal attempt to steal contraband tobacco from another inmate’s rectum.
The Superior Court, based on a decision rendered by judges Judith Olson, Paula Francisco Ott and James G. Colins, allows a sentence of nine- to 18-years incarceration to stand for 26-year-old Maurice D. Wakefield II of Altoona.
Wakefield, represented by defense attorney Scott N. Pletcher, raised appeals with the state appeals court based on trial proceedings, which included an oversight as to when jurors could resume taking notes.
While jurors aren’t required to take notes, the oversight meant jurors had no notes from direct examination of co-defendant Charles M. Frank, who testified about efforts to get the tobacco.
They resumed after Frank’s direct examination, when a tipstaff asked Judge Wade Kagarise about the use of juror notebooks.
The Superior Court found no fault with a conclusion Kagarise used in his dismissal of the challenge.
“As (Kagarise) noted, this specific jury was “not a note-taking group by majority,” and there were “only a few that … appeared to be even taking any notes.”
Later in the trial, Pletcher proposed that the oversight be remedied by supplying the jury with a transcript of Frank’s testimony for use when deliberating. Kagarise declined, and the Superior Court panel affirmed Kagarise’s decision.
“Pursuant to Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedures, a jury is not permitted to have a transcript of any trial testimony during deliberations,” Ott wrote on behalf of the Superior Court panel. “Therefore, the trial court could not send the transcript of Frank’s direct examination testimony out with the jury during deliberations.
The appeals court also ruled against granting a new trial because prosecutors included what the defense claimed was “extraneous video evidence” involving an assault of an inmate. That happened before the group of inmates pursued the inmate who had tobacco in his rectum.
Ott pointed out that no objections to the “extraneous” video were offered during trial. But even if an objection had been raised, the panel concluded that the video appeared to admissible, because it helps “complete the story or context of events surrounding the crime.”
The appeal filed with the state appeals court goes back to an incident on March 16, 2017, in E-Block of the county prison. That’s when Frank, Wakefield and four other inmates — Zachary Moore, Allen Grager, Curtis “Tank” Ramsey and Dalaun E. Carroll — learned that an inmate being transferred to their area had tobacco, wrapped in plastic, hidden inside his rectum.
Testimony during the trial of Frank and Wakefield indicated that the inmates tried to get the victim to expel the tobacco. When that failed, efforts were made to remove it by force, which included the use of toothbrushes, according to testimony, but they also failed, leaving the inmate battered and bloody.
The victim, upon expelling the tobacco later, testified that he tossed the tobacco out of his cell to those involved in the attack.
Of the inmates identified in the attack, Frank received the longest sentence at 28 to 56 years. Other sentences imposed were 14 to 28 years for Moore, nine to 18 years for Wakefield, eight to 20 years for Grager, six to 12 years for Ramsey and three to six years for Carroll.
Wakefield also has an additional appeal pending with Superior Court in connection with his convictions, which violated his probation on drug offenses and led to a new sentence. In that turn-of-events, Judge Timothy M. Sullivan resentenced Wakefield to four to eight years incarceration, then made it consecutive to his nine- to 18-year sentence. Sullivan, in May, filed an opinion with the state court in defense of his actions.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.