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Blair trials require ingenuity

Courtrooms rearranged to provide jury with social distance

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County, which held its first jury trial last week since March when COVID-19 concerns developed, has two jury trials going on simultaneously this week, including one that became possible because of removal and rearrangement of courtroom furnishings.

In Courtroom 4, the larger courtroom on the newer side of the courthouse, benches normally reserved for the public were removed to make way for juror seating on chairs positioned at least 6 feet apart.

Because the jurors are next to the courtroom’s main entrance, a no admittance sign was posted on the entrance door Tuesday, the first day of the Commonwealth vs. Dontay Love Johnson trial.

Those interesting in seeing Johnson’s trial, a proceeding open to the public, were directed to the courtroom’s jury box through a door that has to be unlocked. In the jury box, every other stationary chair was taped off to create social distancing, to reduce potential COVID-19 spread.

Meanwhile in Courtroom 1 on the older side of the courthouse, the Commonwealth vs. Ryan Matthew Wolf trial began Tuesday and is scheduled to continue through Friday. Courtroom 1 was also used for last week’s Commonwealth vs. Michael Lee Forshey trial, after a riser was built behind the jury box, creating a third row of seating, with greater distances between jurors.

On Tuesday, commissioners authorized payment of $1,260 for the riser, installed by Always a Party Rental. The agenda also noted that the cost will be paid with money allocated to the county court through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

In both courtrooms, witnesses are testifying from the designated witness box. Because a clear acrylic divider has been installed, witnesses have been permitted to remove their facial masks.

Johnson’s trial is scheduled to wrap up today. The Altoona man is challenging charges filed by Altoona police, including his alleged possession of a .38-caliber Charter Arms Lady Lavender revolver that was reported stolen. Police recovered the revolver from Johnson’s vehicle on Jan. 24, 2019, while investigating a report of three men, during early morning hours, entering vehicles in the Norfolk Southern employee parking lot.

In Wolf’s trial, he is contesting criminal charges, also filed by Altoona police, accusing him of a role in nine burglaries at eight Altoona bars, from Sept. 12, 2018, to Oct. 21, 2018.

Police arrested Wolf, of Altoona, based on an investigation into the burglaries. Police also arrested Taylor Lynn Wunder and Jordan P. “Scott” Ramsey, also of Altoona, in the burglaries.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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