Indiana County Judge Thomas Bianco yesterday appointed local attorney Taylor Malcolm Johnson to the defense team for 70-year-old Ronald Weiss, the convicted killer of a 16-year-old Tunnelton girl forty years ago.
In 1997, Weiss was convicted of the murder of Barbara Bruzda, but a federal judge 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. He was ordered released from state prison in August but was immediately taken into custody to be tried again, and Judge Bianco then rejected a plea deal that would have freed him.
Earlier this week, Bianco gave attorneys for Weiss until December 17th to file a pretrial motion claiming double jeopardy. The judge then scheduled oral arguments and an evidentiary hearing for January 15th.
Until now, Weiss has not had a local attorney on his defense team. He’s been represented by Pittsburgh 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 has been criticized by State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille as “a group which manipulates and abuses the judicial process in Pennsylvania” to free convicted criminals.