Attorney for Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held appeals for acquittal
The attorney for embattled Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held contends at least six errors were made during his December public corruption trial, and according to a detailed appeal filed this week, wants the two remaining criminal charges against Held to be dismissed.
Held, 44, of Hempfield, is currently awaiting a retrial on a felony charge of conflict of interest and a misdemeanor count of theft related to allegations that he directed sheriff’s department staffers to perform chores for his re-election bid in 2015 while they were on duty for the county.
A mistrial was declared when jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Held is appealing to the Pennsylvania Superior Court a ruling issued in late December in which Senior Common Pleas Judge Timothy Creany of Cambria County rejected a defense demand to acquit the sheriff.
According to court documents filed this week, defense attorney Ryan Tutera said the judge should have granted the dismissal because there was not enough evidence presented by prosecutors during the three-day trial to prove the allegations against Held.
During the trial, the judge dismissed one theft count against the Held, saying prosecutors did not prove specific monetary amounts stolen based on allegations that the sheriff directed on-duty staff to collect items for fundraisers and prepare items to be used during the campaign.
Jurors were required to speculate the exact amount stolen because no bank records, forensic audits or testimony was offered to itemize employee salaries and the cost of the county equipment and personnel for the alleged campaign activities, Tutera argued.
The defense also said Creany mishandled the case in the moments after a guilty verdict was initially announced against the sheriff when in the courtroom one of the panelists recanted his decision to convict. Five jurors said in court they affirmed the guilty verdict.
“The trial court erred by failing to poll each individual juror following the declaration of Juror No. 6 who stated in part and to the effect that he was the last of the holdouts and that he did not agree with the verdict,” Tutera wrote.
Tutera claims the judge should have individually polled remaining six jurors.
Instead, the judge sent jurors immediately back to continue deliberations in the case, but less than an hour later he declared a mistrial when it was determined a unanimous verdict could not be reached.
Held’s retrial was scheduled to begin in April, but county court officials said Creany indicated the case will be delayed until the two-term Republican incumbent sheriff’s appeal is decided.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .