A status conference is scheduled today for Ronald Weiss, the 70-year-old man whose murder conviction in the 1978 death of a 16-year-old Tunnelton girl was overturned this year by a federal judge.
The body of Barbara Bruzda was found in March of 1979 in Young Township. She and Weiss were both at her family’s bar the night before she disappeared. Weiss was found guilty of murder in 1997 after years of investigation, but U.S. District Court Judge Mark Hornak this year ruled that a prosecutor from the state attorney general’s office and a state trooper falsely claimed during the trial that two fellow inmates who testified against Weiss were not given preferential treatment in prison, when clearly they were.
Weiss was ordered released from prison in August, but was immediately taken into custody again after Judge Thomas Bianco rejected a proposed plea deal that would have resulted in his release. The state wants to re-try him, but Judge Hornak has already said that a new trial could be problematic, given the extent of the prosecutorial misconduct and the defense’s probable claim of double jeopardy.
Among those due in Judge Bianco’s chambers today two deputy attorneys general, L. Todd Goodwin and Evan Lowry II. Also expected are defense attorney James McHugh Jr. and Shawn Nolan, the chief of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Community Defender Office, a controversial legal defense organization which recently came under fire from State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who called it “a group which manipulates and abuses the judicial process in Pennsylvania in the hopes of achieving a global political result that it has failed to secure through the political process.”