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May 13, 2013

Lawyer ‘sucker-punched’ by client: Was representing death row inmate in Blair court

— A Cambria County attorney had a physical run-in with a client Monday in neighboring Blair County.

Tim Burns, who practices law from an office on High Street in Ebensburg, was in his words “sucker-punched” by a man on death row. Burns was appointed to represent the man at the Hollidaysburg courthouse.

Andre Staton, a native of Baltimore, was convicted of the 2004 murder of Beverly Yohn. He was in the courtroom of Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle when he apparently didn’t like something Burns said and hit him in the face.

“What I remember is that he said something, and I remember his hands coming at me and then I was on the floor,” Burns said after being treated at Altoona Hospital.

Burns said he was seated when Staton knocked him out of the chair.

Witnesses at the hearing said Staton, who was in handcuffs that were attached to a belt, raised his arms and swung them, striking Burns in the face.

“He broke the chair,” Burns said.

At the time of impact, Burns told those around him that he was having trouble seeing. In an interview with The Tribune-Democrat late Monday afternoon, Burns said his eyesight had returned, but he was starting to experience a significant amount of pain.

“As far as they know, I don’t have a concussion, but they want me to rest a day,” he said.

Burns, who said he has no animosity toward Staton, was the killer’s 10th court-appointed attorney.

“I would say he has really limited his options now,” said Burns, adding that the court will remove him from the Staton case.

“I was ready to prepare his defense. I was ready to roll. There were some issues in this case,” Burns said.

Staton and Burns were in the courtroom Monday on two motions. They were seeking to have Doyle recuse herself from the post-sentencing appeals because she presided over his 2005 trial. Burns agreed with Staton, but Doyle denied the motion.

Staton also asked to be allowed to drop Burns as his attorney and represent himself during what is often a lengthy post-sentence appeal process.

Doyle denied the request, something Burns said he agreed with.

Staton then said he wanted to drop his appeal to the death sentence and proceed with receiving the lethal injection. He then turned and hit Burns.

Burns said he has been in a courtroom when people were attacked, but it usually does not involve defense attorneys or court staff.

“I’ve been threatened twice in domestic matters, but it’s usually the prosecution that gets it,” he said.

Once a candidate for Cambria County judge, Burns does extensive post-sentencing appeals for Blair County.

In Cambria County, Burns often steps in to provide legal representation for civil and community organizations.

Burns led a citizens’ group several years in its successful efforts to save the Roxbury Bandshell. He also helped form Friends and Family of Bishop McCort High School earlier this year.

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