Judge agrees to step aside in death penalty proceeding
A Fayette County judge on Friday agreed to recuse herself from a hearing regarding a death penalty homicide case.
Judge Nancy Vernon agreed to the request, submitted by the public defender representing Henry Clay Crawford.
Crawford, 56, of North Union, is accused of fatally stabbing Lisa Faye Tupta, 49, in her North Union home on Jan. 28. He is charged with homicide, aggravated assault and burglary.
Mike Garofalo, assistant public defender, told Vernon that Crawford objected to her hearing Friday's motions because he had been prosecuted by her office when she was the district attorney.
“I am raising that as an objection at this time,” Garofalo said.
Garofalo said he and Assistant District Attorney Michelle Kelley had reviewed numerous cases for which Crawford was prosecuted during Vernon's term as district attorney, from 2000 to 2010.
“Do you concur that I should recuse?” Vernon asked Kelley.
“Yes, your honor,” Kelley said.
“The court is of the opinion that I have no independent recollection, given the volume of the cases that I prosecuted as district attorney. However, I do want to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and I will recuse myself and assign this to another judge,” Vernon said.
Court records show Crawford was prosecuted at least half a dozen times from 2003 to 2008 for numerous charges, including assault, risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment.
In March, District Attorney Jack Heneks Jr. announced his intention to seek the death penalty.
Heneks listed aggravating circumstances of a killing perpetrated during the commission of a felony, torture and Crawford's prior history of violent felony convictions. In addition, Heneks cited an active protection from abuse court order that forbade Crawford from having any contact with Tupta.
In April, public defender Jeffrey Whiteko filed a series of pretrial motions seeking to have the death penalty removed and the trial moved to another jurisdiction.
That filing included an argument that lethal injection represents cruel and unusual punishment.
Whiteko further argued that the state's capital sentencing scheme does not “afford a defendant the opportunity to contest the sufficiency of proof of the ‘aggravating circumstances' in a pretrial proceeding.”
Friday's hearing was to address the matters Whiteko raised.
Kelley filed a response earlier this week.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the death penalty does not violate the cruel and unusual punishment prohibitions of the United States and Pennsylvania's constitutions,” she wrote.
“Every state that has considered the issue has rejected the argument that lethal injection is cruel and unusual, despite evidence of some botched procedures. Lethal injection is commonly known as the most humane method of execution,” Kelley wrote.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Connellsville native Stafford remembered for her generosity
- 58-acre site for proposed Fayette County jail back on market
- $1.2M flowing to Connellsville through partnership program
- ‘Bank at the Train Station’ to hold grand opening Saturday
- ‘Halloween Nights’ planned at Connellsville tech center
- Dunbar Township woman, toddler critical after crash
- Jobs are focus in 52nd District House race in Westmoreland, Fayette
- Connellsville honors the late Ralph Wombacker
- Connellsville to honor local legend Harold Betters
- New consignment store specializes in dance, formal wear
- Lower Tyrone fall cleanup scheduled for Thursday