HOLLIDAYSBURG — The jury trial scheduled to begin today at the Blair County Courthouse — with potential witnesses including a county judge and an assistant district attorney — has been canceled.
The trial of Darwin M. Herring, 40, of Altoona – facing aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and other charges for throwing a pitcher of water into a courtroom of Blair County in October — was removed from today’s court schedule Friday after Pittsburgh attorney Albert G. Reese Jr.. informed the court that he is now representing Herring.
Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, who was scheduled to preside over the two-day trial, granted a request to delay Herring’s trial so Reese would have time to consider his newly acquired case.
The last-minute change in legal representation developed after a recent court hearing where Herring, 40, said he did not want “go to trial and lose and win consecutive year after consecutive year.”
Herring also told that hearing that he did not want to accept a plea offer adding an additional five years to his current sentence of 25 to 177 years for drug trafficking offenses.
“They want me to die, then come back and do another sentence,” Herring told Sullivan.
At the hearing, Herring was represented by defense attorney Ted Krol who recommended that an out-of-county judge preside over the trial where Judge Jackie Bernard was an expected witness.
Bernard, who presided over Herring’s trial in October for drug trafficking, was on the bench when an angry Herring, outside the presence of the jury, grabbed a pitcher of water and threw it across the courtroom to drug investigators.
As investigators escaped injury by ducking, the pitcher struck and shattered a large-screen television, causing its water to ricochet and douse nearby people.
Bernard was on the list of potential witnesses at trial, which could have put her on the witness stand today to testify in Sullivan’s courtroom. Also on the witness list were drug investigators and prosecutor Michael Madeira from the state attorney general’s office, along with Sheriff James Ott and courtroom deputies who, in response to Herring’s actions , tackled him in the middle of the courtroom.
Despite Krol’s proposed use of an out-of-county judge for the trial, Sullivan refused to recuse himself and affirmed his belief that he could preside fairly if Bernard testified.
First Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith said she was not worried and told Sullivan: “You are not sitting in the judgment of Judge Bernard. … It’s a jury weighing his credibility if this case goes ahead.
When Krol suggested the potential setup — with Judge Sullivan on the bench and Judge Bernard in the witness box — as potentially confusing for jurors, Sullivan said it could be resolved through questioning.
On August 29, when the jury was selected for Herring’s trial which was due to begin today, Krol described the expected jury setup and asked if that would be a problem. Jurors offered no answers.
Sullivan also addressed potential jurors about the “unusual” planned placement and he spoke of the responsibility of jurors to fairly evaluate all testimony. In response, potential jurors showed no concern.
After the mistrial, all selected jurors were dismissed.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.