Court upholds man’s sentence
City man serving time for drug sales
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the conviction of an Altoona man serving a state prison sentence for three illegal drug sales, even though the confidential informant who made the purchases was not available to testify during his trial.
The police informant died prior to the trial, and the defendant, Henry Charles Agnew, now 39, wanted to ask a police officer on cross-examination why the informant was not available to testify.
As Agnew explained to Senior Judge Hiram A. Carpenter, the CI had committed suicide, and he believed that circumstance would give the jury pause as to the credibility of the prosecution’s case against him.
The defense argued that a jury, knowing the circumstances of the death, “could have determined the CI committing suicide was due to a guilty conscience for his work with the Blair County Drug Task Force making controlled purchases,” it was explained in the Superior Court opinion, written by Judge Maria McLaughlin.
Carpenter rejected the defense request to reveal the cause of the CI’s death, and in his opinion submitted to the Superior Court said that the prosecution presented ample evidence of the drug buys through officer testimony, photographs and text messages.
Carpenter said the drug buys in question took place six months before the CI’s death and that the details of the death lacked relevancy and probative value.
The three-judge panel hearing Agnew’s appeal agreed with Carpenter’s assessment and pointed out Agnew “has not offered any reason why the suicide would be probative of the CI’s credibility, rather than the source of unhelpful speculation.”
The Superior Court concluded that Carpenter properly excluded the testimony concerning the informant’s cause of death and affirmed the judge’s 33- to 66-month prison sentence.
Agnew is presently serving his sentence in the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.
The three drug sales involving Agnew occurred on July 20, July 23 and Sept. 23, at various locations in Blair County, including the Logan Valley Mall, Logan Town Centre and the UVA Club.
The panel pointed out that Agnew’s appeal took a lengthy period of time to come before the court for review.
His first appeal was dismissed after his trial counsel failed to file a legal brief explaining the defense side of the case.
As a result of that failure, Agnew’s appeal rights were restored by the Blair County Court.
His renewed appeal was quashed because his attorney failed to file notice of the appeal on a timely basis.
His appeal rights were again restored.
The third attempt to bring the case before the Superior Court was successful and was heard by judges McLaughlin, Mary P. Murray and Dan Pellegrini.
The panel commented that presenting a drug case without testimony from the confidential informant “is an awkward endeavor.”
“However, as reflected in the record, the Commonwealth was uniquely able to present this case without the confidential informant,” the court ruled.