Court Security

Lawyer decked at court hearing is still unable to work 6 weeks later; client charged in assault


Ordered to rest as he recuperates from being struck in the head during a May 13 court hearing, Ebensburg, Pa., attorney Tim Burns was not present Tuesday at a preliminary hearing on new charges now faced by death-row inmate Andre Staton over the incident.

But Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio testified about the blow, since he happened to be watching his opposing counsel when it occurred, the Altoona Mirror reports.

Although Staton’s hands were cuffed to a restraint belt, he managed to shift the belt enough to allow him to swing his cuffed hands into Burns’ face with the force of his body. The stunned lawyer collapsed onto a chair, which broke, and fell to the floor, Consiglio testified.

A court videotape also showed courtroom deputies slamming Staton into a defense table and removing him from the courtroom afterward. One gestured to the judge to leave the bench, the newspaper recounts.

Already sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of Beverly Yohn, his former girlfriend, Staton is now charged with simple assault, aggravated assault and aggravated assault by a life prisoner, for which he could receive a life prison term if he is convicted.

Burns provided a written statement that said he has trouble with his focus, comprehension and memory due to “severe post-traumatic concussion syndrome.” He also had a heart attack within days after being struck in the head.

Attorney Mark Zearfaus, who now represents Staton, argued unsuccessfully Tuesday that the state hadn’t shown that Burns suffered serious bodily injury.

The county sheriff was present in the courtroom Tuesday, as well as two deputies standing in the defendant’s immediate vicinity. One kept his arm between Staton and his new lawyer, the Mirror reports.

Prosecutor Jackie Bernard said the assault case against Staton is being pursued because “You can’t let people not have consequences.”

Meanwhile, Burns, a solo practitioner under contract with Blair County to handle homicide appeals, says he is having to cover the cost of his injuries himself and doesn’t want another member of the defense bar to be put in this situation.

“This day alone I have four doctor’s appointments, and two next week,” he said in a Tuesday email. “Meanwhile my law office I [am] operating off my retirement and small stipend from Blair County until that stops. I want justice.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Cuffed client decks lawyer with ‘baseball bat fashion’ punch during death-penalty hearing”

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