The state Superior Court will be asked to grant a new trial for a Johnstown native and Iraqi veteran convicted earlier this year of gunning down two men.
A Blair County judge this week denied a new trial for Nicholas Adam Horner, opening the door for a higher court to review the case, defense attorney Thomas Dickey said.
“It’s OK. Now we can move forward and go where we feel confident we’ll get a new trial,” Dickey said Friday.
Horner, 33, a 1999 graduate of Conemaugh Valley High School, was living in Altoona with his wife and children in April 2009 when, within a span of less than 15 minutes, he killed a high school student from Hollidaysburg and a retired insurance executive and native of Northern Cambria.
A jury in the spring found Horner guilty of robbing the 58th Street Subway, where he shot and killed employee Scott Garlick, 19, and injured Michele Petty. He then ran a few blocks, encountered Raymond Williams, 64, took his mail and car keys and killed him.
The jury rejected the death penalty and Horner was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dickey attempted to argue that Horner’s actions were out of character for him and were prompted by post-traumatic stress syndrome, a mental condition he had been diagnosed with following two tours in Iraq and one in Kuwait.
In an intense legal battle in the months before the trial, Dickey argued for a not guilty by reason of insanity plea, but Blair County President Judge Jolene Kopriva ultimately refused to allow the jury to hear the argument.
“She said we
couldn’t have it because he had a pitcher of beer at the bowling alley (on the day of the murders),” Dickey said.
During jury selection, Dickey sought emergency intervention from the state Supreme Court, seeking permission to allow the insanity defense. One of the high court judges, acting on his own, brought a temporary halt to the proceedings, but the full panel three weeks later rejected the request.
In denying Dickey’s post-sentencing request for a new trial or a modification of the sentence, Kopriva reiterated the position she took earlier this year, that the use of alcohol and/or prescription drugs impacts the use of an insanity defense.
In her most recent order, Kopriva said she did allow a diminished capacity defense and told the jury that Horner could be not found guilty of first degree murder if he had a mental condition and could not form the specific intent to kill.
Dickey said he has 30 days to file his appeal to the higher court and the process for review likely will take several months.
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