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Convicted murderer, now 40, seeks release

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The attorney for a former Fayette County man who was sentenced to life in prison for a homicide he committed when he was 17 has filed an amended appeal seeking his release.

Joseph H. Metts, 40, was convicted of first-degree murder in May 1993 in the fatal shooting of Fayette County corrections officer Piper Newland, 40.

Metts was accused of killing the guard during a robbery that netted him $50, according to court records.

Newland was shot on Jan. 5, 1992, as she walked to her home on North Gallatin Avenue in Uniontown, just a few blocks from the county jail. Her neighbors heard gunshots, looked out the window and saw her lying on the sidewalk.

Divers recovered the murder weapon from Coolspring Reservoir, records show.

An appellate court later granted Metts a second trial.

On May 4, 2000, Metts was convicted of second-degree murder, robbery, theft by unlawful taking and theft by receiving stolen property.

He was sentenced that same day to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on the murder charge and a consecutive 10-to-20-year term of imprisonment on the robbery charge. The additional robbery sentence was later dismissed as an included, lesser felony under second-degree homicide.

Metts represented himself in 2012 when he filed an appeal under the Post Conviction Relief Act to challenge his sentence.

He cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. Alabama, which found that mandatory life sentences automatically given to juveniles are unconstitutional.

A hearing on Metts' appeal was never held, but it was dismissed in county court when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court later ruled the Miller decision was not retroactive.

Metts appealed to state Superior Court, where a panel of judges found that because he was not provided an attorney for his self-filed appeal, he would be given another opportunity to make his case via an amended petition.

Jeffrey Whiteko, Fayette's public defender, is seeking an evidentiary hearing, according to the latest appeal, filed on May 30.

Whiteko argues that the courts erred by not holding the hearing for Metts and others serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.

“It is clear that evidentiary hearings should have been conducted on all cases, including the appellant's case,” Whiteko wrote. “Simply denying the petitioner's post-conviction hearing without a hearing denies all process.”

A hearing date has not been set.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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