After a status conference yesterday, Indiana County Judge Thomas Bianco gave attorneys for 70-year-old Ronald Weiss until December 17th to file a pretrial motion raising a double jeopardy claim as their reason that Weiss should not be tried again for murdering 16-year-old Barbara Bruzda forty years ago. The judge then scheduled oral arguments and an evidentiary hearing on the double jeopardy claim for January 15th.
Bruzda was killed in October of 1978. Her body was not found until the following March in Young Township. After years of investigation, Weiss was found guilty of murder in 1997, 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.
Weiss testified at his trial that he had played pool with Bruzda at her family’s bar in Tunnelton, and said that when he left, he picked up Bruzda and a man who were hitchhiking. He said he drove them to a birthday party and stayed a while, then left with Bruzda. But he claimed that two vehicles boxed him in and stopped him, and he was then beaten unconscious by his ex-wife’s brothers. He said he was probably still unconscious when Bruzda was killed. The jury didn’t believe him and found him guilty of the murder.
Weiss was ordered released from prison in August but immediately taken into custody after Judge Bianco rejected a proposed plea deal that would have freed him. Judge Hornak predicted at the time of his order that the defense would claim double jeopardy.
Bianco’s order leaves the door open for the defense to file more pretrial motions.