Nathan Fortson’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea in the slaying of a local widow was put on hold Tuesday so that a new court-appointed attorney can draw up a formal post-conviction appeal.

Fortson, 29, is serving two consecutive life sentences in state prison for the kidnapping and throat-slashing death of 74-year-old Velda Malloy of Cambria Township and the killing of Dale Zunich of Altoona in Huntingdon County, both in May 2006.

Fortson, a Huntingdon County resident who was living in Ebensburg at the time of the murders, is incarcerated at SCI-Fayette in LaBelle. He entered guilty pleas to both murders in December 2006.

As he was led from the courtroom Tuesday, he was asked by reporters why he wanted to withdraw his pleas when he had confessed.

He replied, “You wouldn’t know what to do if you didn’t point a finger at somebody like me.”

He complained about being portrayed as a “bad guy.”

Fortson said that if he could get a trial, there would be “more issues come out, more evidence. I guarantee you I’ll do better (at a trial than by a plea).”

District Attorney Patrick Kiniry said that if a court ordered a new trial, Fortson again would face the possibility of a death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder.

But Kiniry said he was confident that Fortson would not be allowed to withdraw his plea.

Attorney John Kasaback had been appointed by Judge F. Joseph Leahey to represent Fortson on the defendant’s handwritten motion, which the judge was considering as a post-conviction appeal. But Fortson was unhappy with Kasaback’s representation, and Kasaback agreed to withdraw as legal counsel.

Leahey, who was the trial judge, said that within a day or two he would appoint a new attorney who then will prepare a formal post-conviction appeal.

A similar handwritten motion was filed by Fortson in Huntingdon County, where two new attorneys have been appointed to represent him.

On Tuesday, Patricia Moore, a Cambria County public defender who was Fortson’s trial counsel, was prepared to testify that she had fully informed Fortson of his rights and that he had understood what he was doing in pleading guilty.

She said last week that by entering the pleas, he avoided the possibility of facing a death sentence if a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.

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