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Cuffed client decks lawyer with ‘baseball bat fashion’ punch during death-penalty hearing

Posted May 14, 2013 11:30 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A handcuffed client decked his defense lawyer Monday in a Blair County, Pa., courtroom, in front of the judge who was hearing his post-conviction argument that he should not be sentenced to the death penalty.

Andre Staton, 50, slammed the blow in a "baseball bat fashion" squarely in the forehead and eyes of his counsel, Tim Burns, who dropped to the floor as his chair broke, reports the Altoona Mirror.

The Tribune Democrat says Burns was seated at the defense table at the Hollidaysburg courthouse when Staton struck him and notes that the convicted defendant was not only cuffed but had his hands attached to a belt in order to restrain him at the time of the attack.

A parole and probation officer who is also an emergency medical technician came to the lawyer's aid as he lay there, stunned, the Mirror says. Initially, Burns said he couldn't see out of one eye, and even after his vision returned it was blurry. The "wobbly" lawyer, mentally alert, was then taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was treated and released.

He spoke later in the day with the Tribune Democrat and WTAJ, saying that he is all right but his head hurts and he plans to take Tuesday off.

The judge had Staton removed from the courtroom after he struck Burns. The blow followed an argument about whether the judge should recuse herself from the hearing, because she had signed a temporary protection-from-abuse order against Staton in 2004. It barred him from contact with a woman named Beverly Yohn. Within days, he broke into the home where she and her children were staying and stabbed her to death, the Mirror recounts.

Staton was convicted of first-degree murder in 2006 and sentenced to the death penalty.

During Monday's hearing, after Judge Elizabeth Doyle refused to step down from the case, Staton called his lawyer's recusal motion a "disgrace," asked to represent himself over Burns' objection that Staton is not competent to do so, and said he wanted to stop fighting the appeal and be executed. Then Staton struck Burns, the Mirror reports.

Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio was arguing for the state and expressed anger over the attack. "This guy deserves no rights whatsoever. He doesn't deserve the rights of an animal," the DA said of Staton. "He sucker punched a guy. The victim has no chance to react. He's nothing but a coward a coward who would never, could never beat up anybody in a fair fight."

Burns told the Tribune-Democrat that Staton has limited his options, since Burns will now be removed as appointed counsel.

State police are investigating the incident, and WTAJ says it is expected that Staton will face a new criminal case over the courthouse attack on his attorney.

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