Teens arraigned on murder charges
Three suspects charged as adults; ineligible for bail
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Three Altoona teenagers were arraigned Thursday in Blair County Court on murder and related charges from Tuesday night’s shooting death of 15-year-old Devon Pfirsching of Altoona.
President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle, who conducted Thursday’s court proceedings, advised Owen Scott Southerland, 15; Logan C. Persing, 16; and Damien A. Green, 15; all of Altoona, that they have been charged in adult court and are ineligible for bail.
Southerland, accused of firing the fatal shot that killed Pfirsching, is facing charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Persing and Green are each charged with second-degree murder, criminal conspiracy to commit murder and criminal use of a communication facility. Altoona police accuse them, along with Southerland, of plotting to rob Pfirsching of marijuana, leading to a confrontation and the fatal shooting in the 100 block of Fourth Avenue Alley.
Doyle, who remanded the teenagers to the county prison, also issued an order that will permit them to be transferred to another prison or to a secure facility for delinquent juveniles, while their cases are pending. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to explore housing alternatives.
Warden Abbie Tate acknowledged Thursday that it is difficult to house juveniles in the county prison because of the population and layout. The state requires juvenile defendants to be kept “out of sight and sound” of adult offenders, Tate said. That requirement also extends beyond housing and includes recreation and out-of-cell time, she added.
First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks told Doyle that the commonwealth has no opposition to housing the teenage defendants in another prison or secure facility that houses juvenile delinquents.
But the commonwealth will be opposed, Weeks said, to the transfer of these cases to juvenile court.
In court Thursday, defense attorneys Robert Donaldson, on Southerland’s behalf; Dan Kiss on Green’s behalf; and Chief Public Defender Russ Montgomery on Persing’s behalf, collectively advised that each expects to file petitions with the county court, seeking to transfer the charges to juvenile court.
Attorney Tom Dickey, appointed to represent Persing after the hearing, also confirmed his intention to proceed in that direction.
In criminal complaints detailing the charges, Altoona police indicated that their charges are supported by video, information from interviews and statements provided by Southerland, Persing and Green.
As Doyle read the criminal complaints in court on Thursday, Southerland repeatedly bowed his head and cried. When asked to acknowledge that he had received a copy of the complaint, he answered “Yes” with a weak voice.
Persing, after hearing Doyle’s reading of the complaint, asked the judge to define the difference between first- and second-degree murder. Doyle turned to a crimes code book to answer.
As she read over the definition of first-degree murder which references “intentional killing,” Southerland shook his head no in disagreement.
After she finished, Persing nodded, indicating that he was satisfied with the answer.
Second-degree murder, as reflected in the criminal complaint, indicates that a defendant was either a principal or an accomplice in someone’s killing.
Weeks also advised Doyle that he intends to ask for one preliminary hearing for all three defendants before Magisterial District Judge Daniel DeAntonio. It will be up to DeAntonio to decide if sufficient evidence exists to allow the charges to move forward.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.