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Bishop murder trial on hold

Rich Cholodofsky
| Saturday, May 12, 2012, 5:16 p.m.

The first-degree murder trial of a Hempfield teenager accused in the fatal bludgeoning of his older brother last year was put off for at least a month.

Westmoreland County Judge Debra A. Pezze on Monday granted the prosecution's request for a continuance and ordered jury selection for the trial of 15-year-old Ian Bishop to start March 31.

Bishop's trial was to start yesterday, but Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said the assistant who is scheduled to prosecute the case was ill and unable to appear in court.

Defense attorneys said last week they are ready for trial.

Bishop is charged with the April 19 claw-hammer slaying of his 18-year-old brother, Adam, in the family's home in Bovard. Authorities claim Bishop struck his brother with the hammer at least 15 times as part of a plot to kill his sibling and his parents.

In court last week, Pezze ruled that prosecutors will not be able to present evidence at trial about Ian Bishop's racist beliefs, which include white supremacy sentiments and neo-Nazi leanings.

Testimony about those character issues first came up last summer from witnesses called by the defense during a hearing to determine whether Bishop should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile.

Pezze eventually ruled against a defense motion to move the case to juvenile court.

As a result, if Bishop is convicted of first-degree murder, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In other pretrial filings, the defense has set the stage to mitigate Bishop's actions. Court documents filed last month indicated Bishop's lawyers may present a defense at trial suggesting the teen suffered from a mental infirmity and diminished capacity because of drug addiction.

A successful argument to those points might allow jurors to find Bishop guilty of a lesser charge of third-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.

While Bishop's case was delayed a month, the prosecution of his co-defendant is still months away. Robert Laskowski, 15, of Hempfield's Wendover neighborhood, also was charged with first-degree murder for his role in Adam Bishop's death.

Laskowski was charged for allegedly knowing in advance about Ian Bishop's plan, being present in the house during Adam Bishop's murder, and not acting to stop the beating or render assistance after fact.

His case is not scheduled to go to trial until May, and Pezze must first rule on a series of pretrial motions brought by the defense.

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