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Judge's lack of action leads to DeWeese prison release

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Saturday, May 19, 2012, 5:58 p.m.

HARRISBURG -- A panel of Superior Court judges gave former House Speaker Bill DeWeese a reprieve from his prison sentence when a Dauphin County judge did not act on DeWeese's petition for bail.

DeWeese, convicted last month of using public resources for political campaigns, was released on his own recognizance on Friday evening from the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution, where he had begun serving his 2 12 to 5 year prison term on Monday.

DeWeese's attorney, William C. Costopoulos of Camp Hill, asked for bail on April 26 while DeWeese appeals his jury conviction for five felonies.

Dauphin County President Judge Todd Hoover had not acted on a bail petition. So on Friday morning, Costopoulos filed an emergency petition for bail with the Superior Court, and the court ruled that afternoon.

Hoover has seven days to act on the bail petition, the Superior Court said. The court panel decided DeWeese should be released while Hoover makes that ruling.

"I have no comment at this time until there is final adjudication of the bail issue," Costopoulos said on Saturday.

DeWeese, 62, a Waynesburg Democrat, could not be reached for comment.

The circumstances of DeWeese's release are unusual, a legal expert said.

"Whether bail is a possibility after conviction often depends on the seriousness of the crime, and the risk of flight," said John Burkoff, who teaches criminal law at the University of Pittsburgh. "A release like this one is unusual, but that said, there's no apparent reason to believe that it reflects DeWeese's stature as a former legislator."

Hoover sentenced DeWeese on April 24. Hoover could turn down bail, and DeWeese would go back to jail on Monday. Or he could decide to grant it, in which case DeWeese would remain free until his appeal is decided. Depending on the nature of the appeal, it could take a year or two to be resolved.

The state Attorney General's Office accused DeWeese, based on a grand jury presentment, of using his district office staff and Harrisburg aides to campaign for him. He testified before a grand jury and at trial. DeWeese admitted before the grand jury that an aide, Kevin Sidella, had done campaign fundraising outside his Capitol office.

The Attorney General's Office used his testimony against him at trial.

The longtime Democrat leader of the state House threatened to fire state workers who would not campaign for him, prosecutors said. His former top campaign aide, Sharon Rodavich, who held a state job in DeWeese's office, struck a plea bargain with prosecutors and testified against DeWeese.

DeWeese continued to maintain his innocence throughout trial and after the verdict. DeWeese later told reporters he would have fared better with a Western Pennsylvania jury. Instead, he said, "Mr. (Frank) Fina (a prosecutor) wanted me tried by his peers not my peers." DeWeese had tried unsuccessfully to move the trial from Harrisburg to Greene County.

Prosecutors used a video clip of that statement from Roxbury News at DeWeese's sentencing hearing to claim he was not repentant.

DeWeese gave up a state pension valued at $2.8 million upon his conviction.

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