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Former city man says 2006 Blair trial unfair

Bellon serving lengthy sentence for drug offenses

A former Altoona man who is serving a minimum 31 years in a state correctional institution for drug offenses continues to claim his 2006 trial in Blair County was unfair, and he is asking the U.S. District Court in Johnstown to give him another chance to prove it.

The defendant, Charles Bellon, 41, is presently serving his sentence at the State Correctional Institution in Benner Township, Centre County.

He was convicted of multiple drug offenses in August 2006 after a lengthy trial in the courtroom of Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter.

Since his conviction and initial sentence of 31 to 62 years, Bellon has claimed that the prosecution illegally reinstated charges that had been dismissed following a guilty plea that was later negated by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, and has contended that a key witness, as well as members of the prosecution team, misled the jury when they said no deals were offered to the witness, identified as Charles Haralson.

Haralson, who testified during the 2006 trial, was alleged to be an associate of Bellon’s.

Prosecutors maintained Bellon was the leader of a drug gang that operated in Blair County for several years. Bellon persistently denies he was the leader of the operation.

Over the years, Bellon has continued to pursue his claims of unfairness before the state and federal courts.

Within the past few months, the U.S. District Court ordered that Bellon be resentenced.

Carpenter, now a senior judge, resentenced him to a term of 31 to 46 years, reducing his maximum sentence by 16 years, but maintaining the minimum of 31 years.

Bellon is appealing the sentence to the Superior Court.

He also sought appeal of the District Court decision dismissing his claims that his trial was unfair.

He requested the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia grant him a certificate of appealability. That was denied July 1 by Third Circuit Judges L. Felipe Restrepo, David J. Porter and Anthony J. Scirica.

Meanwhile, Bellon in June filed a new petition in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown, asking that his appeal be reopened so he could argue once again that Haralson had benefited from a plea agreement that was not disclosed to the defense prior to his 2006 trial.

The story began in 2002 when police became involved in a car chase as they attempted to serve a warrant on Haralson. His car crashed and he fled on foot.

On May 10, 2002, a search warrant of the crashed vehicle revealed drugs and a loaded handgun, but, Haralson was never charged locally. The case was disposed of in the federal court subsequent to Haralson’s testimony against Bellon.

He is presently on supervised release, according to federal court records.

While prosecutors of Bellon’s Blair County cases denied repeatedly there were any deals that needed to be revealed to Bellon prior to his trial, Bellon contends a deal existed and was not revealed — as required by federal law — to the defense.

Although Bellon’s appeals appeared to be ended at the federal level by the recent 3rd Circuit order, his new petition to the District Court is filed under federal Rule 60 (b) that permits appeals based on recognition that a mistake had been made, or fraud committed.

He is asking the federal court to either discharge him, grant him a new trial or provide “any relief deemed appropriate and just.”

On Tuesday, state Deputy Attorney General Christopher J. Schmidt answered Bellon’s new petition by pointing out both the District Court and U.S. 3rd Circuit have rejected his claims.

Schmidt noted that in 2012, Bellon was granted a hearing that included testimony from Haralson; former Blair County District Attorney Dave Gorman; prosecutors Jackie Bernard and Michael Maderia; narcotics investigators Randy Feathers and Norman Young; and Bellon’s trial counsel, Phillip Robertson.

“The Commonwealth litigation approach to the Haralson claim has been the opposite of concealment and fraud,” stated Schmidt in his answer to Bellon.

“The Commonwealth (and himself) have acted with openness and transparency,” he stated.

Schmidt is asking the U.S. District Court to deny Bellon’s request for relief despite his challenge “to the integrity of the federal habeas proceedings. …”

Schmidt concluded, “There has been extensive litigation of Bellon’s Haralson-related claim procedurally on the merits. There was no mistake or fraud committed in the litigation of the Haralson-based claim.”

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