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Gun, drug charges lead to jail time

Christian asked to withdraw guilty pleas before sentencing

HOLLIDAYSBURG — An Altoona man whose jury trial came to a halt in January when he decided to render guilty pleas was sentenced Wednesday to 10.5 to 21 years in prison for gun possession and drug delivery offenses in 2017.

Before the sentence was imposed, Keith C. Christian, 45, tried to convince Judge Timothy M. Sullivan that he should be allowed to withdraw the guilty pleas. He said they were rendered while he was experiencing a panic attack.

Sullivan asked Christian on Wednesday if he recalled acknowledging his mental health conditions in January and offering assurance that they were not interfering with his decision to render guilty pleas.

“I did exactly what my attorney said to do,” Christian told Sullivan, referencing trial lawyer Douglas Keating.

Christian said his panic attack set in during the trial after Keating told him that Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky had two more witnesses to call. One would be a state trooper who would testify that Christian was in possession of a stolen handgun and the other witness would be the gun owner who would say the gun was stolen.

In denying Christian’s request to withdraw his pleas, the judge referenced a transcript of the proceedings.

Defense attorney Richard Corcoran, who now represents Christian, said he will be talking with his client about Sullivan’s decisions.

First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks said he was satisfied with the 10.5- to 21-year sentence to address Christian’s gun-related offenses and his sale of heroin with fentanyl, a substance that has led to many fatal overdoses.

Weeks said Christian’s criminal history includes 24 arrests, mostly in the Philadelphia area, and 14 convictions. Christian’s parole or probation status has been revoked four times, he added.

“We want people to reform,” Weeks said after the sentencing hearing concluded. “But unfortunately, it has hasn’t happened for him. This is a sentence needed for the protection of society.”

In court Wednesday, Christian apologized and asked Sullivan for a sentence with extensive community service hours so he can help people in Blair County.

The Philadelphia native said he came to Blair County for a fresh start, while he was still under supervision of the state parole and probation board. He described himself as a barber who gives free haircuts. He said he writes books and cooks. He was one of the Blair County Prison inmates who helped clean up local cemeteries last summer.

“I’m a recovering addict who slips sometimes,” Christian said.

When imposing the sentence, Sullivan referenced Christian’s history of drug-selling offenses and his prior record, which prohibits him from owning or possessing a gun.

“This defendant is a professional drug dealer, and (firearms) are a part of his trade,” the judge said.

Altoona police and West Drug Task Force officers filed charges against Christian in connection with sales on April 27, 2017, at a convenience store in Tyrone; on May 8, 2017, at a residence on the 1500 block of 12th Street; on May 11, 2017, at a convenience store on 17th Street; and on Aug. 8, 2017, in an alley on the 2600 block of Beale Avenue.

In his sentencing order, Sullivan assigned five to 10 years for his possession of a prohibited firearm, 3.5 to seven years for carrying a firearm without a license and two to four years for possession with intent to deliver heroin. Together, the consecutive sentences add up to the 10.5 to 21 years’ incarceration.

Sullivan also imposed jail sentences for additional drug-related offenses, but all will be served at the same time as the 10.5- to 21-year sentence. He is to be credited for time served at the Blair County Prison, where he has been incarcerated since Aug. 8, 2017.

Pastor Timothy Young of the Northwood Baptist Chapel in Tyrone, who was in court on Wednesday, said he has worked with and witnessed Christian’s efforts to improve his life.

“The Lord has been working in his heart, and he has taken steps in the right direction,” Young said. “But Keith and I have talked, and he knows that sometimes, you still have to pay the price for what you’ve already done.”

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