Judge: No basis to dismiss charges against Sheriff Jonathan Held
The presiding judge in the criminal case against Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held in court documents filed Monday said he found no basis to dismiss public corruption charges in the aftermath of a December mistrial.
Senior Common Pleas Judge Timothy Creany in an 11-page opinion said prosecutors presented enough evidence to support having a jury consider conflict of interest and theft charges involving allegations that the two-term sheriff directed on-duty deputies and office staff to perform campaign chores for his re-election effort in 2015.
Held, 45, of Hempfield has denied the charges and is appealing the judge’s ruling late last year rejecting a defense bid to have the case dismissed. Held, through defense attorney Ryan Tutera, argued evidence presented during the three-day trial was not sufficient to support a potential conviction.
A series of current and former sheriff’s department employees testified during the trial that Held directed them to secure items for campaign fundraisers, used office phones to solicit donations and used county computers to track information related to the re-election effort.
Creany said testimony provided a basis for jurors to potentially find Held guilty.
The judge also defended his decision to allow the prosecution to potentially retry Held.
Creany declared a mistrial when jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Jurors originally brought in a guilty verdict, but during individual questioning in the courtroom, Juror No. 6 said he had changed his mind. The judge sent the jury back to continue deliberations. An hour later, he declared the mistrial.
The defense, in its appeal before the state’s Superior Court, said Creany erred when he declined to individually poll all of the jurors about their verdict and as a result he should have dismissed the case.
“… even if this decision was in error the defendant can show no prejudice, as a mistrial was later declared regardless of the outcome of the polling,” Creany wrote.
Held, a Republican, is seeking re-election this year to a third-term.
His second trial was originally scheduled to have been this month but was postponed while his appeal is litigated.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .