2017-04-17 / Local

PA Attorney General's office seeking new jury for Dustin Briggs

Court proceedings on whether Briggs' death penalty should be reinstated are not expected to occur soon

BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN

Staff Writer

TOWANDA — While the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office has asked the Bradford County Court of Common Pleas to empanel a new jury to determine if Dustin Briggs’ death penalty should be reinstated, that is not expected to occur right away.

“I don’t see it happening very soon,” said Bradford County District Attorney, who has not been involved in prosecuting Briggs. There are other legal proceedings in the case that will need to happen first, he said.

In February 2006, Briggs was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Bradford County Deputy Sheriffs Michael VanKuren and Christopher Burgert.

On March 30, Senior Judge David E. Grine vacated Briggs’ death penalty, citing Briggs’ claim that the jury had been following improper instructions when weighing the evidence for the death penalty. The judge ordered Briggs to serve life in prison without parole.

The judge during Briggs’ trial was Barry Feudale.

In a March 21 court document, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, acknowledged that the penalty phase in Briggs’ trial was flawed, and it asked the court to empanel a new jury to decide whether the death penalty should be reinstated.

In 2011, Briggs’ conviction and sentence were upheld after appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Briggs then filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Relief Act, which allows review of cases after the appeals have been denied.

It was in response to Briggs’ petition that Judge Grine vacated his death sentence.

In his March 30 order, Judge Grine stated that the next step in the case will be a review of the guilty verdicts.

In their March 21 document, state prosecutors noted that the empaneling of a jury to decide if the death penalty should be reimposed ought to wait until after the review of the guilty verdicts has been completed.

In support of its position, state prosecutors cited an earlier court ruling (Commonwealth v. Bryant): “It would be wasteful of scarce judicial resources to empanel a new sentencing jury, apprise it of the facts of the underlying crime, hold a full hearing, instruct the jury about sentencing in a capital case and then allow it to deliberate and reach a decision, only to have the sentence rendered (null and void)” because the guilty verdicts were thrown out of court.

Empaneling a new sentencing jury could be further delayed if either party appealed any of Judge Grine’s rulings in the ongoing review of the case, Barrett said.

James Loewenstein can be contacted at (570) 265-2151 ext. 1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.

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