Altoona Mirror, March 6, 2001 : Front Page

Publication: Altoona Mirror March 6, 2001

Altoona Mirror (Newspaper) - March 6, 2001, Altoona, Pennsylvania Sports: PIM basketball playoff brackets inside Life: The staying power of the big network anchors DIAltana mirror © Copyright 2001THE 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. TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 2001 Area district justices break policy Every day, district justices make decisions that can result in criminals getting off the hook or lawabiding citizens being wrongly punished. But when recently asked to obey the law themselves, half of the area’s district justices fell short. Of the 12 area district justice offices visited during a six-month Mirror investigation, half violated 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 resident, entered area district justice offices and asked to view a criminal case file selected at random. Criminal case files are designated as public record under Pennsylvania law. THIRD OF FIVE PARIS 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 district justice offices didn’t hesitate to criticize the inquiry while it was being made and then withhold the information. “You can go to common pleas court to satisfy your curiosity,” 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 Policy/Page A8 50C newsstand 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 Fournier The Associated Press WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney underwent surgery Monday to reopen a partially blocked artery after checking 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 suffered another heart attack, his cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner said. The doctor also da id he did not believe Cheney had suffered more heart damage, ThPtiPv    though the vice y    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 capacity,” the doctor said after Monday’s procedure — an angioplasty. But he added, “He has chronic heart and artery disease.” Reiner said there was a 40 percent risk the artery would narrow again. He said 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 scare, called the surgery “a precautionary measure.” 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 the school, killing two people and wounding 13 others. The suspect, a ninth-grader, was apprehended by police. I Pace Cl 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 teenager in Ocean City in 1995 was sentenced 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 Lynn Ruggles. Wright The plea is much like a no-contest plea in Pennsylvania — the suspect maintains his innocence but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him. Wright was sentenced to 40 years, with 25 years suspended. However, he will serve only about ll years because authorities subtracted 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 through,” Judge Theodore Eschenburg told Krista’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 time,” 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 attorneys, deputy public defenders H John Rue and Christopher Llinas. Carol Ruggles has been outspoken throughout the murder investigation and the many years of legal wrangling surrounding Wright’s arrest. “Evidently, this is the best I could get,” 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, convicted 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 history 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 Plea/Page 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. NOT-SO-NASTY NOR’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 happens,” he said. ■ Northeast snow halts travelers; more on way for Pa J Page Cl 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 overnight 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 ahead,” 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 snowblowers, 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 IO a.m., we sold out of all of our snow shovels,” he said. Just like that, a dozen shovels flew off the racks. Please see Storm/Page A4 DELIVERY f Subscription or home delivery questions: 946-7480 or (800) 287-4480 7 J" 22910 r 0005(^1 BIG FOUR 9 0    2    3 I Lottery numbers, A2 WEATHER Snow showers likely, 28° ■ Forejast, A2 HOT-ADS.com We're white-hot!Altoona terror [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 fax us at (814) 946-7^47 □ LTC AL Business AS Hospitals A7 Obituaries A7 Opinion A6 Q SPORTS Local B4 Scoreboard BS I Q RATION Classifieds C2-8 [•Jure Comics OS Community news D2 Puzzles D4 Television D4 INSIDEBUSINESS An easy-to-read graphic indicates unemployment rates for January in six area counties. PAGE AS ;

  • Brendan Kelly
  • Carol Ruggles
  • Christopher Llinas
  • Dick Cheney
  • Galen Decort
  • Jason Sipes
  • Jay Young
  • Jermaine Stelwagen Wright
  • Jermaine Wright
  • John Rue
  • Jonathan Reiner
  • Kelly Whitaker
  • Krista Lynn Ruggles
  • Krista Ruggles
  • Larry Ruggles
  • Rob Newkirk
  • Theodore Eschenburg
  • Thomas Groton

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Publication: Altoona Mirror

Location: Altoona, Pennsylvania

Issue Date: March 6, 2001

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