The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 16, 2013

Lawyer suffers setback: Courtroom attack results in concussion

Kathy Mellott
kmellott@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — A Cambria County attorney who was punched in the face by a death row inmate he was defending in a Blair County courtroom has had a setback, he said Thursday.

Tim Burns, who operates a law practice on High Street in Ebensburg, was initially to be off work one day – Tuesday – the day after he was punched by Andre Staton.

But he suffered a medical setback Wednesday and does not anticipate being in his office for some time.

“It turns out I have a full-blown concussion and I’m suffering from post-concussion syndrome,” Burns said.

Burns, who is state certified to represent defendants facing the death penalty at trial and in the appeals process, had met with Staton twice and was just starting to prepare what he felt was a vigorous defense when the Baltimore native “sucker-punched” him.

As of Thursday, no criminal charges had been filed against Staton for the Burns assault, which was witnessed by Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio, Judge Elizabeth Doyle and numerous other court staff.

Blair officials said charges are pending and likely will be filed by state police in a week or so.

Burns and Staton were seated side by side when Burns agreed with Doyle on something and Staton lifted his handcuffed arms.

Using them like a baseball bat, he slammed the unsuspecting Burns on the left side of the face and head, knocking him backward and off his chair.

Burns later said he was knocked out for a moment and, when he came to, experienced some vision problems.

Doyle ordered Staton immediately removed from her courtroom, and Burns was taken to the hospital, where he was examined and released a few hours later.

This setback came Wednesday, when Burns went to his office and had to be taken by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

“I got all confused, couldn’t think, was seeing spots and was dizzy,” he said.

Doctors have ordered him not to think, something he said “gets me all worked up.”

Today, Burns is to see an ophthalmologist over concerns he has a torn retina or some other eye damage, and next week, he starts what he termed “concussion therapy” at a brain trauma clinic.

Staton was convicted and given the death penalty by a Blair County jury in 2005 for the 2004 murder of Beverly Yohn of Altoona.

Burns, Staton’s 10th court- appointed lawyer, had just taken over the case and was in court Monday on two motions.

He agreed with Staton that Doyle remove herself from deciding the post-sentence motions because she was the trial judge.

But it was when Staton requested he be allowed to represent himself in court, and Burns and the judge disagreed, that Burns was attacked.

On Thursday, Burns was still showing a sense of humor despite the circumstances.

“It’s actually an offense to strike your defense counsel,” he said. “I never thought I’d get a serious concussion in a courtroom.”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.