Double jeopardy argued in 1987 South Union homicide case
A Fayette County man who won a new trial after being sentenced to death for a 1987 homicide can't be tried again without violating his right against double jeopardy, a defense attorney argues.
Mark David Breakiron, 52, formerly of Hopwood was convicted of homicide and robbery in 1988 and sentenced to death for the stabbing of Saundra Marie Martin, 24.
Martin was working at Shenanigan's Lounge in German Township to earn money to go to school to become a dental hygienist.
She was closing the business for the night on March 24, 1987, when Breakiron attacked her, took her purse and the bar's receipts and drove her to his grandparents' house in South Union, where he tortured and killed her, according to police.
Breakiron won a new trial when a federal judge ruled in May 2011 that prosecutors withheld evidence about a jailhouse snitch that could have been used to impeach his testimony against Breakiron.
During a hearing on Thursday to continue the retrial until May, Leskinen said defense attorneys have advised him of their intention to try to prevent the retrial with a claim of double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same crime.
One of Breakiron's attorneys, Sam Davis of Uniontown, said a federal defender will file the petition in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh. Leskinen said such an appeal could take a year or longer to be resolved in federal court.
Should Breakiron win the claim of double jeopardy, he could seek his release, even if prosecutors appealed, Davis said.
“If the double jeopardy claim is upheld, then he can't be retried,” Davis said. “The question is, would he be free at that point, pending an appeal of the commonwealth? It would be my understanding, he would be.”
In addition to the pending federal petition, Breakiron's attorneys wanted a continuance for a number of other reasons.
Leskinen said attorneys advised him prosecutors intend to introduce DNA evidence that was not available in 1987. Defense attorneys plan to file a petition seeking permission to hire their own expert to counter that testimony, the judge said.
Other experts the defense wants to hire include a “knife expert” to challenge the findings of a prosecution witness and a psychiatrist to evaluate Breakiron.
Leskinen ordered the trial continued to May. Breakiron, who attended the hearing via videoconference, remains lodged at the State Correctional Institution at Greene in Greene County.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.