Big cases from 2015 continue to court in new year

Alois Kudlach enters his preliminary hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Alois Kudlach enters his preliminary hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. CDT photo

When it comes to big crime stories, homicide is generally hard to top.

In 2015, Centre County had two cases within months of each other.

Nuria Kudlach, 51, was killed in her College Township home on a Sunday morning in August. Husband Alois Kudlach, 49, was arrested the following evening. He claims he shot his wife with a .45 caliber handgun in self-defense after she came at him with a knife.

Kudlach’s case is due for the February term of court.

His lawyer, Karen Muir, will be busy. She is also defending Vladimir Podnebennyy, 63, who was charged with the October stabbing of his wife, Natalya Podnebennaya, 58. The couple was estranged at the time of her death.

Until the Kudlach and Podnebennaya killings, Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller had not had a year with multiple non-vehicular homicides since taking office in 2010.

The Centre County courthouse has had its share of hefty cases in 2015.

After years of delay, former Penn State president Graham Spanier finally filed his complaint against former FBI director and federal judge Louis Freeh, whose commissioned review of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal placed blame for the action partially on Spanier. Spanier is still facing long-delayed criminal charges of perjury, conspiracy, child endangerment and obstruction.

In March, Spanier accused Freeh and his law firm, Freeh, Sporkin and Sullivan, of defamation, while charging Penn State with breach of contract and another firm, The Freeh Group, with tortuous interference.

The fallout from the Sandusky case continued to fill the courthouse dockets and the Prothonotary’s Office.

Sandusky himself made his first personal court appearance since 2012, when he once again showed up in the main courtroom in front of McKean County Senior Judge John Cleland, this time for an October hearing of a motion on his Post Conviction Relief Act petition. A PCRA is a special, targeted kind of appeal.

Sandusky’s attorneys sought permission to conduct discovery, including issuing subpoenas, citing the leaks in the grand jury system as problems with the case.

45 of 48 Number of counts of child sex abuse charges Sandusky was convicted of in June 2012

Cleland denied the subpoena powers, but the hearing became part of the ongoing saga of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s own legal issues as he directed Kane to give testimony.

The whole courthouse was caught up in the struggle between Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller and the Centre County Board of Commissioners. In January, commissioners first heard a public complaint about Parks Miller regarding allegations of forgery. The situation escalated as police officers searched and carried out boxes from the DA’s office one night.

The case was turned over to the Office of the Attorney General, and a grand jury later declined to recommend charges. Parks Miller fired back on her accusers, including the commissioners, local attorneys, a former paralegal and the judge whose signature she was said to have forged, with a suit in federal court. That case remains ongoing.

Additional charges were levied in federal court against former Harris Township supervisor Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee received accelerated rehabilitative disposition for indecent assault charges in 2005.

Originally charged with enticing and transporting a minor and receiving and possessing child pornography in October 2014, Lee entered a not guilty plea to charges of tampering with evidence and production of child pornography in April. More charges were added in September, alleging that Lee enticed a child to travel for purposes of sexual activity. He remains incarcerated pending trial.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce