HOLLIDASYBURG - A jury was selected Monday to try Kenneth J. Piner, an Altoona man accused of being part of a Baltimore-to-Altoona cocaine ring.
Last week, Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter allowed Piner to withdraw guilty pleas he made in September to drug charges.
Piner claimed he is innocent of the most serious charges against him, including being part of a corrupt organization and a conspiracy to bring thousands of grams of cocaine from Baltimore to Altoona. Piner doesn't deny dealing in small amounts of cocaine.
A jury of six men and six women plus six alternates (three men and three women) were selected in about four hours Monday.
Testimony in Piner's trial will begin in two weeks, and, according to Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, who oversaw jury selection, the trial could last three weeks. Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron will preside over Piner's trial.
Kenneth Piner was scheduled to go on trial this month with his nephew, Glenn Scott Piner, 28, of Altoona, but Monday morning Glenn Piner, with his attorney, Tammi Fees of Centre County, appeared before Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle and entered guilty pleas to 11 charges, including participating in a corrupt organization, using the proceeds of an unlawful act, criminal use of a communication facility, possession with intent to deliver, delivery of cocaine, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, forgery and theft.
As part of a plea agreement struck between Fees and Operation Last Call prosecutors, Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman and Assistant District Attorney Peter Weeks, Glenn Piner was sentenced to a state prison for seven to 20 years and fined more than $10,000.
While Glenn Piner entered his guilty pleas before Doyle, jury selection for the Kenneth Piner trial was held in a courtroom on the second floor of the Blair County Courthouse.
Gorman inquired of the jurors if they would fairly consider the evidence against Kenneth Piner even though many of the witnesses against him might have been involved in the drug ring and have come to plea agreements with the prosecution to lessen their sentences. One man could not and was dismissed from the panel.
Kenneth Piner's attorney, R. Thomas Forr Jr., asked if any prospective jurors had contributed to Operation Our Town, the nonprofit organization that provides funds for drug investigations and prosecutions as well as for treatment programs. Only one potential juror raised her hand. After questioning by Sullivan, she was permitted to remain in the jury pool but eventually was struck from the trial panel.