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Court must review resentencing in arson case

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has been instructed by the state Supreme Court to review a decision it made 20 months ago ordering resentencing of a Hollidaysburg man serving prison time for a series of arsons.

Christopher Michael Rodland, 44, was sentenced to a minimum of more than 25 years in a state correctional institution for a series of arsons committed in the late 1990s.

Rodland was convicted by juries in two of the cases and entered guilty pleas in others.

However, throughout the years, he challenged his convictions by filing at least 11 post-conviction petitions.

In July 2019, the Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected the bulk of Rodland’s arguments contesting the fairness of his trial and the effectiveness of his attorneys.

But the appeals court ruled that he was to be resentenced on six of the cases because the trial judge failed to include restitution for the victims.

Former President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva ordered restitution in some of the cases, but not others. As to the six cases in question, the judge held the restitution question “open” but never imposed any restitution.

According to a long-standing rule, restitution — if it is to be ordered in a case — should be imposed at the time of sentencing.

The reasoning behind such a rule is so the defendant knows with certainty all the terms of his sentence, according to the July 2019 Superior Court ruling.

The resentencing order by the Superior Court was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and late last week, the state’s highest court ordered the Rodland case be returned to the Superior Court for reconsideration of its order.

In a ruling Jan. 20, the Supreme Court pointed out the rule that restitution be set at the time of sentencing has been eroded over the years, and concluded in Pennsylvania v. Steven Winfield Cochran that in unique cases, restitution can be imposed after a defendant has been sentenced to jail.

In the Cochran case, the restitution question was held open for several months so hearings could be held on the amount the defendant owed.

Rodland’s Altoona attorney, Matthew Robert Dombrosky, noted the Cochran decision allowed a restitution hearing to extend well after the prison sentence was imposed.

The Supreme Court now wants the Superior Court to review how that may affect the July 2019 ruling ordering resentencing on six cases involving Rodland, he said.

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