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Man convicted in cousin's murder in Saltlick seeks retrial

Mary Pickels
| Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Fayette County man convicted of second-degree murder in 2004 for the murder of his 13-year-old cousin appeared before Judge Steve Leskinen Friday to request a new trial.

Brian Keith Hays, 27, is serving a life sentence for the death of Danielle McManus, whose charred remains were found on May 3, 2003, in a smoldering van parked in a junkyard near her Saltlick Township home.

In a written confession, Hays admitted to police that he had sex with his cousin before smoking crack cocaine with her in the van. She lost consciousness, the statement says, and he set the van on fire in a panic.

During trial, Hays testified that the confession was coerced.

He told jurors that the two smoked marijuana and had sex, but that McManus was gone after he came in from smoking a cigarette on the porch. Hays and McManus lived together with family members.

Hays is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institute at Rockview, in Centre County.

Yesterday, Hays told Leskinen that he had ineffective counsel and that he should have been permitted a change of venue for trial.

A petition filed by his court-appointed attorney, Dianne Zerega, states that James King III, an inmate at SCI-Rockview, should have been called as a witness at his trial.

It states that King would have testified that on the night McManus died, King saw her in a vehicle with a man he did not know. King allegedly said he talked with them and said they were attempting to obtain cocaine. He said he knew McManus and told her to go home.

Assistant Public Defender Mary Campbell Spegar, who defended Hays at trial, testified that she attempted to subpoena King in 2004, but that Hays did not tell her King might have information about McManus' whereabouts before her death.

A subpoena sent to the Fayette County Prison, where King was believed to be lodged at the time, contained an illegible signature, Spegar said.

King did not make himself available at trial, she said.

Hays also claimed he requested a change of venue before trial.

"I didn't believe I could get a fair trial in this county, with all the publicity," he said.

But "he never voiced a concern," Spegar said.

"I believe the testimony of King was essential. It would have been exculpatory, and he should have been called," Zerega said.

Leskinen agreed to provisionally admit videotaped testimony from King during an 11 a.m. hearing Thursday.

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