CLEARFIELD – A Clearfield man will stand trial on a felony charge under Pennsylvania’s new strangulation law, which stems from an alleged domestic assault that occurred earlier this month.
John L. Irwin, 33, is charged by Officer Daniel W. Podliski of the Clearfield Borough police with strangulation, F2; simple assault, M2; recklessly endangering another person, M2; and harassment, S.
Irwin was originally charged with a first-degree felony for strangulation. Prior to the preliminary hearing Wednesday, the commonwealth amended the criminal complaint to make it a second-degree felony because Irwin and the victim were “household members.”
Assistant District Attorney Christine Chavez presented the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Irwin was represented by defense attorney Leanne Nedza. Magisterial District Judge Jerome Nevling presided over the hearing.
The victim, Irwin’s wife, testified first and detailed her account of the domestic assault that occurred around 9 a.m. March 13 at the Village Apartments on Reed Street in Clearfield.
According to her, she was visiting Irwin when they started arguing and fighting outside his friends’ apartment building. She said he “lost it” and started choking her with both hands.
“After we squabbled outside, we went in. I thought we were done, but it wasn’t over,” she testified. In the hallway inside the building, she said Irwin choked her with one hand while she was against the wall.
She also said he kicked her in the abdomen, which caused her to buckle over and she lost her breath. After that, she said he punched her in the side of her body, but his strikes were with the side of his fist in a pounding-like motion.
When asked by Chavez, the victim was unable to recall approximately how many times she thought Irwin struck her during the assault. She said she tried to “block out” this day from her memory.
Irwin, who was visibly upset throughout the hearing, brought it to a brief halt with an outburst. He said, “I’m going to be put away” over this [expletive]. He also said he didn’t want to stop the hearing, but he didn’t want to be in the room.
Nevling advised Irwin that he needed to calm down, remain quiet and work with his attorney for the duration of the hearing. Afterward Nedza requested to speak with Irwin briefly, which Nevling permitted.
When the testimony continued, the victim was asked about how she felt when Irwin was assaulting her. She said she didn’t know because she felt a lot of different emotions that day.
She then told Chavez when she stood up Irwin choked her again with one hand. She said that this time he picked her up off the ground, and she blacked out for a few seconds.
The victim said Irwin’s friend came out and told them to take their argument inside the apartment. When she got inside, she called her mother to come pick her up.
She said her mother came at approximately 11:30 a.m., and she was taken to the Punxsutawney Hospital for medical treatment. Chavez presented a photograph of the victim’s injuries that was taken by a nurse at the hospital.
When asked by Nedza under cross-examination, the victim said she didn’t tell anyone who was inside the apartment about Irwin assaulting her. She said they were his friends and not going to believe her. She also said she covered the markings with her hair.
Nedza called attention to the fact that she stayed at the residence until 11:30 a.m. instead of leaving and going for help. The victim said she wasn’t thinking and was scared at the time but did call her mother within minutes of going inside.
Podliski was offered for cross-examination and Nedza asked about other interviews he conducted as part of his investigation. He said he spoke to the couple residing at the apartment where Irwin and the victim had stayed the night. However, he said their stories didn’t add up.
When asked by Nedza, Podliski said when the incident occurred there were local establishments nearby that the victim could have gone to rather than staying at the apartment.
Nedza didn’t present any witnesses and neither side made any final arguments. Nevling then held all charges to the Court of Common Pleas and left Irwin’s bail at $50,000.
Irwin was convicted Oct. 31, 2009 of simple assault and unlawful restraint that was also the result of domestic violence. In the prior case, he held the victim down and choked them several times during the incident.
Last year Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill into Pennsylvania law to make strangulation a free-standing criminal offense.
According to published reports, the bill has made it a crime to apply pressure to the throat or neck of a victim, or to otherwise block the nose and mouth of a victim. The offense is considered a misdemeanor unless any aggravating factors apply.
The reports stated that strangulation is considered a felony if a victim is a family/household member; if the defendant is subject to a protection from abuse order involving the victim; if the defendant has a previous strangulation conviction; or if multiple other factors apply.