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July 17, 2013

Convicted vet ends quest for new trial

— An Iraq war veteran and Johnstown native serving life in prison for killing two people four years ago is ending his fight for a new trial.

Nicholas A. Horner, 33, of Altoona, submitted a signed statement to the state Superior Court saying he is dropping his appeal and will no longer challenge Blair County Judge Jolene Kopriva’s order that barred him from presenting an insanity defense.

Defense attorney Thomas Dickey of Altoona said he wanted to continue the fight for a new trial, “but this was the closure Nick wanted.”

“One thing I always teach the young lawyers I work with is that the client controls what happens. These decisions are up to them,” Dickey said.

“And he made it clear he did not want to proceed any further.”

A jury found Horner guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

He was sentenced to life in prison last year for the deaths of clerk Scott Garlick, 19, of Hollidaysburg, at the 58th Street Subway in Altoona and Ray Williams, 64.

Williams was shot outside his apartment complex a few blocks away as Horner was leaving the scene of the sandwich shop robbery on April 6, 2009. Williams, who was retired as an insurance agent in the Vinco area, was a Northern Cambria native.     

Dickey said he did not want to discuss specifics behind Horner’s reasoning but acknowledged his client felt bad about putting the victims’ families through more legal procedures.

Dickey had been unsuccessful in arguing to use the insanity defense during the trial in county court.

After Kopriva denied use of insanity as a defense, Dickey filed an emergency petition in the Superior Court.

He noted that one of the seven judges who reviewed the petition thought the insanity defense was appropriate given the issues many veterans face in their postwar lives.

Dickey said he had  planned to make the same argument to Superior Court in requesting a new trial.

“And I felt really good about our chances,” he added.

But Dickey acknowledged a new trial could have had several outcomes: A jury could find Horner not guilty on the murder counts, hand down another life sentence or recommend the death penalty.

Blair County Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard said she felt confident Horner’s conviction would hold up, but she said Horner’s decision might help bring closure to the Garlick and Williams families.

“And that’s important,” she said.

Bernard said Horner signed his statement under oath and said he understands the consequences of his decision.

Both attorneys anticipate no further hearings should be needed to make the discontinuance instruction final.

“Because of the current status of the appeal, I expect the court will simply consider the appeal terminated,” Bernard said.

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