In an unusual move, the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal filed on behalf of Ernest “Ernie” Simmons on a parole violation that sent him back to prison in 2011.
The appeal, filed by Altoona attorney Thomas Dickey on behalf of Simmons and denied by the state Superior Court, was then appealed by Dickey to the Supreme Court, which wants to hear more about the incident that sent Simmons back to prison.
“The Supreme Court ruling is a major step for the defense in its attempt to overturn a ruling by Judge (Timothy) Creany because the state’s highest court accepts only a small number of cases to review,” Dickey said.
This does not mean Simmons is out of prison, Dickey said, but it is a significant step in that direction.
Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said she was not aware of the Supreme Court’s decision and could not offer comment.
Simmons, 56, was on death row for the 1992 murder of 80-year old Anna Knaze of Johnstown when the higher court ordered a new trial.
Instead of going to trial, Simmons agreed to a plea deal to third-degree murder, which got him out of prison, Dickey said.
He was placed on probation for a period of six months to 10 years, but landed back behind bars after he allegedly made threatening remarks at a Clearfield County hospital.
At the time, Simmons was living at a halfway house in the Brockway area. He was undergoing dialysis treatments at the DuBois Regional Medical Center when he allegedly made a threat.
“He was angry when he made the statement. He was just blowing off steam,” Dickey said. “It’s like if you were at a football game and said you were going to get the referee or something.”
The incident was reported to Cambria County authorities and Creany ruled he violated the conditions of his parole.
In the order agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court said the threats were not communicated to the “object” being threatened, nor was any action taken to implement the threats.
“I’m really pleased that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, sees the law as important to them,” Dickey said. “You have to basically beg them to hear an appeal. We’re glad we were able to convince them.”
A schedule is being set up for when Dickey and the prosecution will submit written briefs.
Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.