Trial delayed for inmate accused in 2018 beating death of Pa. corrections officer
The inmate faces the possibility of a death sentence if convicted of the first-degree murder of Sgt. Mark Baserman
By David Hurst
The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
SOMERSET, Pa. — The defense team representing a state prison inmate charged with killing a corrections officer in 2018 has added a Luzerne County attorney as it prepares for the capital case.
It also has received an extra 120-day window to prepare for Paul Jawon Kendrick’s trial.
Somerset County President Judge D. Gregory Geary granted the extension request in court Thursday after defense attorneys Tim Burns and Kenneth Sottile said Williamsport-based attorney Edward J. Rymsza needs time to “get up to speed” on a case that includes thousands of pages of “discovery” documents and other evidence.
In a motion filed prior to Thursday’s hearing, the defense team indicated they plan to move forward in the coming weeks, including the potential of filing as many as a dozen pretrial motions.
Burns said Rymsza has a lengthy history representing clients in death penalty cases and instructs Pennsylvania lawyers seeking to become certified to represent defendants in such cases.
Kendrick would face the possibility of a death sentence if convicted of the first-degree murder of Sgt. Mark Baserman. But the court-approved attorney will also be working with the defense team during the trial phase, Burns confirmed.
Somerset County Acting District Attorney Molly Metzgar and Assistant District Attorney Thomas Leiden told Geary they had no objection to the delay — as long as it was clear to the court that the defense alone requested it.
Given that this is a case that would afford Kendrick many years of appeal opportunities if sentenced to death, “we want to make sure he has every opportunity” to present their initial case, Leiden said.
He and Metzgar said they are confident the end result will have the same end result regardless when the jury issues its verdict.
Kendrick, 28, is charged with attacking Baserman while the officer was monitoring inmates in a housing unit day room — or common area — on Feb. 15, 2018. Investigators have said Kendrick hit the officer in the face, kicked him in the head with his boots and then attacked another officer before he was apprehended.
Baserman, 60, of Stonycreek Township, died of blunt-force trauma nearly two weeks later while hospitalized.
Death penalty cases are rare in Pennsylvania — the trial has been delayed numerous times, partly due to the suspension of in-court proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to Kendrick’s financial status — he’s been incarcerated for more than five years for a previous homicide conviction — the court has approved the costs to provide him legal counsel as part of his constitutional right to an attorney and a fair trial.
The death penalty remains legal in Pennsylvania, although no one has been executed in the commonwealth since 1999, and recent governors, including current Gov. Josh Shapiro, have said they would not sign death warrants.
But Metzgar said the state-required “aggravating factors” to support seeking a death penalty are clear as it pertains to seeking justice for the Baserman family.
That includes the fact Baserman was a corrections officer performing his duties at the time he was attacked, that Kendrick committed the homicide while in the process of committing felony aggravated assault, that Kendrick was serving a life sentence at the time of the altercation and that Kendrick had committed a previous murder.
“Since we are pursuing the death penalty in this case, there will be a great deal of scrutiny in the appeal process, so the defendant will always receive deference in the proceeding,” Metzgar said. “The delay does not deter me from making sure that we continue to vigorously pursue the delivery of justice for the victim and his family.”
Geary did not set a new trial date in court, but said the 120-day delay would be applied to all current deadlines and dates, which appears to reposition the trial for early 2024.
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