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Killer's appeal again denied for murder of two girls in Monessen

An appeal filed by a former Monessen man in prison for more than three decades for killing two young children was denied Friday.

Westmoreland County Judge Debra Pezze rejected an argument by John Veltre Jr., 54, who claimed that because he was convicted of first-degree murder as a 16-year-old in the late 1970s, he could not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Veltre was convicted for the 1973 deaths of 2-year-old Sandra Dee Morgan, and her 3-month-old sister, Tina. According to court records, Veltre threw both children into a wall, stomping on the older child, after he raped their mother and left her unconscious in her Monessen home.

Veltre's appeal focused on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that precludes life prison sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than homicides.

Pezze rejected Veltre's argument, saying the Supreme Court ruling did not apply because Veltre was convicted of homicide.

Veltre pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and other related offenses, but in 1978, a state appeals court ordered that he be given a new trial. The appeals court ruled Veltre did not knowingly and voluntarily agree to plead guilty.

Later in 1978, a Westmoreland County jury found Veltre guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and rape and sentenced him to the same term originally imposed after the guilty plea --two concurrent life prison terms, plus an additional five to 20 years for rape.

Over the years, Veltre has repeatedly appealed his conviction and sentence, always maintaining his innocence.

Veltre asked that his sentenced be modified to make him eligible for parole.

He wrote his appeal from his prison cell at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville in Schuylkill County.

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