CLEARFIELD – The status of the case against a state prison inmate accused of killing his cellmate was discussed in Clearfield County Court.
Lawrence Edward Peterson Jr., 45, an inmate of state prison is charged with criminal homicide, murder of the first degree, murder of the third degree, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.
His trial is currently scheduled for the first week of March. District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. has stated he will be pursuing the death penalty in this case.
The charges were filed after an incident at the State Correctional Institution in Houtzdale on Aug. 2, 2013 when Peterson allegedly beat William Keitel until he was unconscious. He died Aug. 11, 2013.
Keitel was serving a life sentence for the murder of his estranged wife, and her boyfriend. He also shot her father during a custody exchange at a convenience store in Ohio Township Jan. 1, 1998, according to reports from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Peterson is serving a 40- to 80-year sentence for various crimes that happened in Northampton County in November of 1998.
During motions court, Mike Marshall, who is representing Peterson, stated he provided an expert report following a psychological evaluation of Peterson to the prosecution at the end of January as he was instructed.
Shaw responded that he thought the report would only be used in the penalty phase of the trial. But the report includes legal conclusions, which he needs to address. Shaw said he plans on filing a motion to address line by line what in the report is admissible in the guilt phase of the trial.
President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman said he also thought the report was regarding Peterson’s competence and would be used for the penalty phase of the trial. He did not anticipate Marshall would be claiming it was self-defense.
“They were two guys locked in a cell. What evidence can there be other than what he says?” Ammerman asked.
Marshall stated he intended the report to be used in both stages of the trial.
Shaw said if the report is going to be used in the guilt phase the commonwealth may need to secure their own expert.
Marshall noted that if Shaw files a motion and then tries to get his own expert, it could take a month. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Feb. 23 and the trial is to start the following week.
Ammerman is taking the continuance of the trial under consideration, but stated the jury selection dates would not change.
This concerned Marshall, who said he didn’t want the time between jury selection and the actual trial to be any longer, because of the possibility jurors could be exposed to details of the case through media coverage.
The possible delay in the trial is the result of Marshall’s report taking too long, Ammerman said.
During January’s motions court, Shaw voiced his frustration with the defense, which has had months to prepare their case. He complained that every time the case is discussed it seemed the defense had made no progress at all. The preliminary hearing in this case was in July.
Marshall explained he has had problems communicating with Peterson because he was transferred to a state prison out of the area.
Details of the crime were revealed during the testimony in the preliminary hearing from a corrections officer was that he heard someone yell “he’s killing him up there.” When he arrived at Peterson’s cell, he could see through a window on the door that Keitel was lying on the floor. At that point, Peterson was sitting on the bed. He notified others that an inmate was down before asking Peterson if he would allow him to handcuff him.
Peterson stood up and “stomped him” (Keitel) two or three more times with his foot, he testified.
Peterson was ordered to the back of his cell and he complied. Two officers were then able to enter and handcuff Peterson. Medical staff responded quickly and removed Keitel.
Peterson is serving a lengthy state prison sentence for a crime spree in November of 1998 in Northampton County, according to reports in The Morning Call. Peterson was convicted of raping a 9-year-old girl, beating a woman with a paddle until it broke and stabbing another woman with a screwdriver. He later fled from police and was shot in the leg before being taken into custody.