HOLLIDAYSBURG — Efforts to prepare for a two-week jury trial in the 2004 murder of a 26-year-old Hollidaysburg woman are expected to continue through the end of the week in Blair County Court.
While prospective jurors worked Monday in Courtroom 1 to complete lengthy questionnaires associated with the pending trial of Paul Aaron Ross in the death of Tina S. Miller, President Judge Elizabeth Doyle and attorneys convened in Courtroom 4 to review anticipated witness testimony, photos, drawings and videos that prosecutors intend to present during trial.
In court today, Doyle and the attorneys are expected to continue trial preparation work while additional summoned jurors work on their questionnaires.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the court would have summoned one large group of jurors to the courthouse for a pending murder trial.
Because of the pandemic, jurors were summoned in four groups — about 200 total — to be considered for a panel of 12 plus four alternates who pledge to fairly evaluate the evidence against Ross.
The completed questionnaires — with information jurors provide about themselves and what they know about Ross’ case — are being copied and distributed to attorneys who will have a chance, starting Wednesday, to further question the jurors. The goal is to seat the panel before the end of the week so the trial moves forward next week.
While addressing jurors Monday, Doyle advised them that if they, as members of a jury panel, reach a first-degree murder conviction, then the panel will move into the penalty phase to consider imposing a life in prison or death sentence. That penalty phase, she said, will provide a chance for evaluating aggravating and mitigating circumstances in rendering a decision.
The judge also acknowledged that if the jury acquits the defendant of first-degree murder, then there is no penalty phase.
During Monday’s review of pending trial testimony and supporting documents, lead prosecutor and retired District Attorney Richard Consiglio indicated that he has about 50 witnesses to present during the upcoming trial.
His witness list includes several state troopers involved in the murder investigation that developed after Miller’s body was found June 27, 2004, partly submerged in water at Canoe Creek State Park.
The witness list also includes those who saw Miller and Ross during the hours before the 26-year-old Miller was found dead. An autopsy report indicated that she died of strangulation and drowning.
During review of pending trial testimony and evidence, defense attorneys Thomas M. Dickey and Thomas Hooper rendered several objections that Doyle addressed or expects to address later.
The judge also said the efforts to review evidence and objections, prior to trial, should cut down on the amount of time would otherwise be needed during trial to address the differences.
The judge, who has directed attorneys to avoid discussing trial evidence outside court, also advised Consiglio and Dickey on Monday that their loud arguments must be restricted to pre-trial proceedings.
“I’m warning the attorneys now that I won’t tolerate yelling in front of the jury,” the judge said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.
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