CLEARFIELD – President Judge Fredric Ammerman declared a mistrial Tuesday morning in the cases against three men who were allegedly involved with a methamphetamine operation in the Clearfield area.
Vincent Panebianco, 29, of Clearfield was on trial on charges of felony criminal conspiracy engaging-manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, plus misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children.
Darrell L. Taylor, 30, of Springdale was on trial on charges of felony criminal conspiracy engaging-manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, plus misdemeanor endangering the welfare of children.
Marcus Homer Waltmon, 41, formerly of Clearfield and an inmate of state prison, was on trial on charges of felony conspiracy-manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities.
Senior Deputy Attorney General David C. Gorman is prosecuting this case on behalf of the commonwealth. Panebianco is being represented by defense attorney Leanne Nedza, Taylor by defense attorney Joe Valenza and Waltmon by defense attorney Joshua Maines.
Testimony was heard briefly Tuesday morning from Officer Zachary S. Cowan of the Lawrence Township police. He said officers, including himself, had monitored Panebianco’s residence at 1815 Daisy Street Ext., for three to six months prior to the execution of the search warrant Feb. 1.
He said a high-volume of individuals – known from previous police encounters – were observed coming and going from the residence. Cowan, when asked by Gorman, told jurors these individuals were known to be involved with drug activities.
Panebianco’s attorney, Nedza, repeatedly objected to Cowan’s testimony with regards to the “short-stay” traffic at her client’s residence.
Nedza eventually requested for a sidebar in order for counsel to discuss the issue with Ammerman at the bench without it being heard by members of the jury. After about 15-20 minutes, Ammerman had court tipstaff return jurors to the jury room.
Nedza then motioned for a mistrial because Cowan’s testimony contained new information that was not in case paperwork and not previously testified to at two, different preliminary hearings.
The officer said multiple people – known to police for involvement in drug activities – were coming and going from Panebianco’s residence. “It’s prejudicial,” Nedza argued and both Valenza and Maines joined Nedza’s motion for a mistrial.
Valenza added that if the trial resumed, he’d be very hesitant to question Cowan because it could “open up a can of worms.”
Gorman countered, saying while Cowan had given trial testimony that didn’t mirror exact terms used in previous hearings and court documents, there were numerous references about investigators’ suspicion that Panebianco’s residence was being used for a drug operation.
Following about a 20-minute break, Ammerman said he agreed Cowan’s testimony was “very prejudicial,” in the absence of reports detailing names of individuals with their previous incidents and convictions.
He said it was also brought to his attention over the break that a member of the tipstaff, seated at the back of the courtroom, could hear every word Gorman said during their lengthy sidebar.
Additionally, he said a sheriff’s deputy, who was positioned in the middle of the courtroom, could hear most of what was said by Gorman and others.
“I have to believe the jury is tainted,” Ammerman said, “and am forced to declare a mistrial.” He then put the cases back on the trial list for selection of a new jury panel.
According to previously-published GANT News reports, the charges stem from an investigation by local law enforcement and agents of the Attorney General’s office into drug activity at Panebianco’s Clearfield residence at 1815 Daisy Street Ext.
When a vehicle driven by Eric J. Kyler was stopped after leaving Panebianco’s residence Feb. 1, officers found over $19,000 in a locked container, as well as packaging materials, a small amount of methamphetamine, scales and an assortment of drug paraphernalia. Kyler had another $2,628 on him, while his passenger, Waltmon, had $662 in cash.
After Kyler was taken into custody, his cell phone received repeated calls from a number in Akron, Ohio, which investigators have called a “source city” for methamphetamine.
According to previously-published reports, it was believed Kyler intended to purchase an additional one-pound supply of the drug in Ohio because there was a “dwindling” supply of about one ounce at Panebianco’s residence.
As a result, a search warrant was obtained and executed the night of Feb. 1-2. A search of the residence yielded about an ounce of suspected methamphetamine, scales, money, packaging materials and two guns and two young children were present at the time.
Additionally, Taylor reportedly had $1,040 in his pants pocket when he was taken into custody.