Two hearings slated for Wednesday at the Centre County Courthouse hit roadblocks when the state Superior Court intervened on behalf of the commonwealth.
The cases of both Jalene McClure and Barry Grove were scheduled for retrials in Centre County. Grove pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and firearms charges in 2013; McClure was sentenced for assault in 2014.
Former Centre County Judge Bradley Lunsford presided over both trials. However, the trials were during the same time frame the county District Attorney’s Office was accused of improper texting between attorneys and Lunsford, and retrials were ordered.
Clinton County Senior Judge J. Michael Williamson deemed the texts were not a factor that influenced the trials during a hearing in December.
According to an opinion and order by Williamson Wednesday morning, the court rejected Grove’s suggestion that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to raise on appeal a “wholly inadequate guilty plea colloquy.” Grove also suggested that counsel failed to challenge testimony and failed to correct an error in his prior record score at the time of sentencing.
Grove would be granted relief with respect to the sentences ordered by Lunsford, Williamson wrote, saying those sentences are set aside and re-sentencing is to be scheduled.
An order by Williamson regarding the McClure case, stamped 2:01 p.m. Wednesday, says the case is scheduled for jury selection in early February for trial during the second week. He also noted race for county district attorney, saying both District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller and McClure’s attorney, Bernard Cantorna, are seeking the office.
“We have serious concerns that the animosity, which is manifested in these proceedings between Ms. Parks Miller and Mr. Cantorna, is such that the integrity of the judicial system, as well as the defendant’s right to a fundamentally fair trial, are jeopardized if this case were to proceed to trial before the resolution of the election proceedings,” he wrote.
Jury selection will be pushed to June 5, he said, with the trial to be pushed as well. Williamson also ordered that bail status be returned to McClure and Grove.
However, the Superior Court ordered that Williamson no longer proceed on the Grove case because certain issues were up on appeal, Parks Miller said late Wednesday. Despite this, he proceeded Wednesday morning to grant Grove post-conviction relief, letting him out on bail.
A hearing regarding Grove’s case was slated for Wednesday morning, while a pretrial conference for remaining issue in McClure’s case was scheduled for the late afternoon. However, according to an interim order at noon Wednesday in McClure’s case, an emergency stay was ordered two hours before the conference was scheduled, holding court proceedings.
A second stay was filed at 1:13 p.m. Wednesday regarding the Grove hearing.
“My office immediately again filed an emergency appeal to the Superior Court,” Parks Miller said, “and within a short time frame, the Superior Court stayed these trial court’s orders as well. Grove remains incarcerated and the orders issued are stayed.”
Williamson reportedly also attempted to grant bail status to McClure, which the District Attorney’s Office appealed as well, Parks Miller said.
Grove’s attorney, Sean McGraw, filed a motion for protective order Wednesday, seeking to protect what remains of Parks Miller’s electronic communications during the relevant time periods in the case.
“It is believed ... that Parks Miller may use the powers of her grand jury to compel the production of the (electronic) evidence,” McGraw said in part, “and, when produced, destroy it.”
Parks Miller called for a grand jury investigation into the county in 2015, saying “at least one unsolved murder, and a recent series of cases the scope of which cannot be determined without the powers granted to a county investigating grand jury.” Parks Miller said the grand jury could handle drug trafficking, corrupt organizations and unsolved missing persons cases, without going into specifics.