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Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - March 6, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania Sports: PIAA basketball playoff brackets inside B4 Life: The staying power of the big network anchors Alt00na mirror Copyright 2001 TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 2001 newsstand THE SERIES Today: Getting your hands on a supposedly public court document can be difficult. Wednesday: Your tax money helps local municipalities pay their bills, right? So getting a look at those bills should be no problem, right? Thursday: There's a-proposal on the table to strengthen Pennsylvania's Right to Know law. Area district justices break policy Every day, district justices make decisions that can result in criminals getting off the hook or law- abiding citizens being wrongly punished. But when recently asked to obey the law them- selves, half of the area's district justices fell short. Of the 12 area district justice offices visited dur- ing a six-month Mirror investigation, half violat- ed the public access policy set by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. Mirror reporter Jay Young, casually dressed and identifying himself only as an Altoona resi- dent, entered area district justice offices and asked to view a criminal case file selected at ran- dom. Criminal case files are designated as public record under Pennsylvania law. THIRD OF FM PARTS Stories by Jay Young In addition, Young requested a one-page copy from the file in each office. The Unified Judicial System requires copies be made for no more than 50 cents per page. Despite the clear rules, employees in some dis- trict justice offices didn't hesitate to criticize the inquiry while it was being made and then with- hold the information. "You can go to common pleas court to satisfy your District Justice Galen DeCort in Portage said when Young said his request was being made "out of curiosity." DeCort said the case file no longer was in his court. Young asked if there was any record of the case in the district justice's office. DeCort eventually retrieved a large file and began looking through it. After handing over one document, Young asked to view the affidavit of probable cause in the file. Pointing his finger, DeCort said, "I'll let you look at it, but I'm not going to give you copies." He removed a stapled set of papers from the file and looked over them. After ripping at least two pages from the stapled bunch, he restapled the documents and handed them over. Please see AS INSIDE How area district justice offices responded when asked for case files. The rules governing open records law at district justice offices. PAGE A8 Doctors unblock artery in Cheney BY RON FOUHMER The Associated Press WASHINGTON Vice Pres- ident Dick Cheney underwent surgery Monday to reopen a par- tially blocked artery after check- ing into a hospital with chest pains. It was the same artery that had been cleared in November after his fourth heart attack. There was no evidence that Cheney had suf- I fered another heart I attack, his cardiol- I ogist, Dr. Jona- I than Reiner said. I The doctor also I said he did not I believe Cheney I had suffered more I heart damage, Chpnpv the vice cneney president was spending the night at the hospital for observation. Cheney, 60, quickly had resumed a full schedule after a heart attack and follow-up surgery in November. "There is a very high likelihood he can finish out his term in his fully vigorous the doc- tor said after Monday's procedure an angioplasty. But he added, "He has chronic heart and artery disease." Rein.er said there was a 40 per- cent risk the artery would narrow again. He safd Cheney could be released from the hospital as early as today and be back to work this week. -President Bush, playing down his top adviser's latest health Mare, called the surgery "a pre- cautionary measure." f Bush spoke by telephone to Cheney, who reported from the hospital that he was feeling fine and looking forward to returning to work, the White House said. STUDENTS IN SHOCK The Associated Press Students at Santana High School in Santee, Calif, console each other after a shooting Monday. A student opened fire at killing two peopk and wounding 13 others. The suspect, a ninth-grader, was apprehend- ed by police. I PAGE C1 Plea bargain struck in '95 murder case Jermaine Wright will serve 15 years for the murder of a local teen in Ocean City, Md. BY PHIL RAY Staff Writer The Salisbury, Md., man accused of killing a Duncansville RD teen- ager in Ocean City in 1995 was sen- tenced Monday to serve 15 years in prison. According to an agreement approved by a Worcester County judge, Jermaine Stelwagen Wright entered what is called an Alford plea to second- degree murder and sodomy for the 'death of 16- year-old Krista LynnRuggles. Wright The plea is much like a no-con- test plea in Pennsylvania the suspect maintains his innocence but acknowledges that prosecu- tors have enough evidence to con- vict him. Wright was sentenced to 40 years, with 25' years suspended. However, he will serve only about 11 years because authorities sub- tracted his time in jail since the 1995 arrest. Wright's sentence will be served concurrently with his term in North Carolina on sex-related crimes, prosecutors said. "I cannot even imagine what you've been through and what you are going Judge Theodore Eschenburg told Krlsta's mother, Carol Ruggles, now of Arizona, as she watched Monday's hearing. "I am very sorry it happened in Worcester County, when she came to Ocean City to have a good the judge said in a Snow Hill, Md., courtroom. "The sentence, quite frankly, has left me depressed. Without a trial, I have no way of knowing whether the defendant is guilty of these things." Eschenburg was referring to the type of plea he accepted from the 26-year-old Wright, who was accompanied to court by his attor- neys, deputy public defenders John Rue and Christopher Llinas. Carol Ruggles has been outspo- ken throughout the murder Inves- tigation and the many years of legal wrangling surrounding Wright's arrest. "Evidently, this is the best I could she said of the plea agreement. "I just regret the whole outcome of this. It's just something I'll have to live with. "Krista doesn't get an appeal. She doesn't get a life, and he does." Two years ago, Wright, convict- ed of first-degree murder in Krista Ruggles' killing, was sentenced to life plus 25 years by Worcester County Judge Thomas Groton. Wright was granted a new trial in 2000 by the Maryland Court of Appeals after it was discovered that news clippings citing his his- tory of sex offenses and a recent sentence in Greensboro, N.C., for rape, mistakenly had found its way into the jury room and was seen by jurors during deliberations. Wright's retrial for the Ruggles homicide was to begin March 12. However, a dispute arose about the testimony that would be allowed into the trial, said Krista Ruggles' father, Larry Ruggles of Roaring Spring. Please see A4 The snowfall made for a picturesque view on Walnut Street in Hollidaysburg Monday. More than a foot of snow fell on parts of Pennsylvania as the first wave of a massive winter storm came to an end. HOT-SQ-KASTYHOR'EASTER Area again spared from worst of storm Mirror photo by Jason Sipes From Mirror staff reports Although the Altoona area didn't receive as much snow overnight Sunday as forecasters predicted, enough fell to create a busy night for snowplow drivers. Snow was the first topic on almost everyone's minds Monday morning. Altoona Highway Superintendent Brendan Kelly said 15 trucks and crews worked from 9 a.m. Sunday through Monday to treat the streets and stay ahead of the storm. "They gear up really good when a storm like this he said. Northeast snow halts travelers; more on way for PAGE C1 Trucks continued to run Monday to widen the plowed roads and await more snow in the evening. Since the streets were cleared as the snowstorm came and went Sunday, Altoona probably won't have to limit on-street parking to get rid of the snow, Kelly said. PennDOT used 36 trucks over- night in Blair County, District 9 spokeswoman Kelly Whitaker said. Plow crews tried to be proactive and clear roads as the storm swept through. "As large as our road system is, it's hard to keep up with them. But they were out all night trying to keep up and getting a few minutes she said. They also worked Monday to clear the roads back and clean off berms. By Monday afternoon, most of the roads were just wet, although some, especially in Fulton County, which got the most snow of District 9, still had slush and snow, Whitaker said. While plow crews were on the roads, property owners tore through old shovels and snowblow- ers, giving local hardware stores a boost in sales. The ACE Fix-It Hardware store in Duncansville found that many locals needed new snow shovels to move the heavy, wet snow. Assistant Manager Rob Newkirk said his business was booming. "By 10 a.m., we sold out of all of our snow he said. Just like that, a dozen shovels flew off the racks. Please see A4 Subscription or home delivery questions: 946-7480 or (800) 287-4480 Lottery numbers, A2 Snow showers likely, Forecast, A2 HdT'ADS.tiom We re white-hot! Altootra iHtrrnr II THE GREAT COMBINATION" Call us today...Make money today. Ask for THE GREAT COMBINATION of MIRROR CLASSIFIEDS and HOT-ADS Phone (814) 946-7422 or tax us at (814) 946-7547 QlflCAL Business Hospitals Obituaries Opinion Local Scoreboard Classifieds _ A7 A7 A6 C2-8 Comics DS Community news D2 Puzzles D4 Television .........D4 BUSINESS An easy-to-read graphic indicates unemployment rates for January in six area counties. PAGE AS
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