The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 18, 2012

Officials rule out seeking death penalty

2 homicide suspects plead not guilty in separate cases

EBENSBURG — Cambria County prosecutors announced Tuesday they will not seek the death penalty for two defendants charged in unrelated homicides.

The accused are:

• Patrick Burkett, 25, of Beaverdale, who is charged in the shaking death of 22-month-old Raegan Panick, the daughter of Burkett’s girlfriend, in August.

• Sherman Holes, 43, of Cherry Tree, Indiana County, who is charged in the beating death of 79-year-old Arthur “Arch” Henry of Northern Cambria in 2010.

Both defendants entered “not guilty” pleas Tuesday at their formal arraignments in county court – Burkett before Judge Timothy Creany, and Holes before Judge Norman Krumenacker.

Both would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder.

Creany said that Burkett’s case is tentatively set for trial in April, while Krumenacker said that he would be meeting with the defense lawyers and prosecutors early next year to set up a trial schedule for Holes.

Burkett is charged with both first-degree and third-degree murder as well as aggravated assault, simple assault and child endangerment.

State police alleged that he was watching the toddler while the mother was at work on Aug. 10. The mother found the girl unresponsive when she returned home.

The girl was taken to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown and then flown by medical helicopter to Pittsburgh, where she died a day later at Children’s Hospital.

District Attorney Kelly Callihan said that the facts of the child’s death “would not support us seeking a death sentence even through this was a tragic death of a child. The medical findings were the cause of death was consistent with a violent shaking coupled with blunt force trauma to the head.”

Assistant District Attorney Beth Penna said the victim’s mother understands why the prosecution is not seeking a death sentence but wants the defendant prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Assistant public defender Patricia Moore, one of Burkett’s lawyers, told the judge that the defense would be seeking the appointment of experts to review the medical records and autopsy reports in preparing for trial.

Holes faces a general charge of criminal homicide, which, the judge said, can include anything from manslaughter to first-degree murder. The defendant also is charged with aggravated assault.

Henry was found nearly unconscious in a pool of blood on his living room floor the evening of June 30, 2010, in his mobile home. He was taken to Memorial Medical Center, where he died three days later of traumatic brain injuries.

Holes was not arrested by state police until this year. Prosecutors said that a relatively new method of showing mathematical probabilities linking DNA evidence to both the defendant and the victim led to his arrest.

Police alleged that a 29-inch-long wooden plank, which was found hidden behind a washer in the trailer, was the murder weapon.

In deciding not to seek a death sentence, the prosecution took into consideration both the lapse of time since the murder took place and that the case is a circumstantial one with no eyewitness to the injuries being inflicted, Heath Long, first assistant district attorney, said.

David Raho, one of the assistant public defenders representing Holes, said that the defense “is reviewing the discovery materials turned over by the prosecution and is beginning to prepare appropriate pretrial motions. It’s very early in (developing a defense) in the case.”

Both defendants, wearing red prison clothing, were returned to the county prison, where they are being held without bond. Holes is temporarily housed there and will be taken back by deputies to State Correctional Institution-Retreat, where he’s serving time in an unrelated case.

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