Judge told to explain ruling in case of Bolivar infant's murder
State Superior Court wants to know why a Bolivar man serving up to 30 years in prison for killing his infant daughter was prevented from telling jurors at his trial that the baby's mother was allegedly addicted to drugs while she was pregnant.
The appeals court this week ordered Westmoreland County Senior Judge John Blahovec to issue an opinion to explain his rulings on the issue, both before and during the 2013 murder trial of Clayton Mibroda.
Mibroda, 27, was convicted of third-degree murder in the death of his 20-day-old daughter, Natalee. The defense contended the baby was born addicted to drugs.
In an appeal, Mibroda contends that Blahovec erred when he barred that testimony.
Last summer, Blahovec denied Mibroda's appeal.
A three-judge panel of Superior Court said it needs more information to rule on the appeal.
In a six-page ruling, the court noted, Blahovec addressed two other issues in his opinion but failed to write about the drug issue.
Blahovec was directed to submit his opinion on that issue within 30 days to the Superior Court, which retained jurisdiction of the case.
“We felt it is a very important issue as to the culpability in the case,” said defense attorney Joseph Ryan. “It limited Mr. Mibroda's ability to present a defense.”
Ryan did not represent Mibroda during the trial. Public Defender Wayne McGrew served as his trial attorney.
McGrew argued at trial that the child's mother, Kayla Lichtenfels, used drugs while pregnant.
During an appeal hearing last summer, McGrew said he attempted to have child welfare caseworkers testify about the mother and baby's drug issues, but Blahovec barred that evidence.
“The whole strategy was that Kayla was responsible for the death of the child, and that started prior to her birth by having drugs in her system. That set the whole stage,” McGrew testified last year.
The prosecution contended that Natalee died on Dec. 27, 2011, from extensive blunt-force trauma injuries to the head and chest. The infant suffered a fractured clavicle, bleeding in the brain and cuts to her mouth indicating someone had shoved in a bottle, pacifier or other object, according to trial testimony.
Lichtenfels testified that when she returned to the home she shared with Mibroda, he refused to give her the baby. The infant later was found unresponsive and not breathing.
Assistant District Attorney Barbara Jollie, who prosecuted the case, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.