Prosecutors will not appeal a recent decision granting a new trial for a Johnstown man convicted of killing his wife more than 20 years ago.
On July 14 — exactly 25 years after 29-year-old Christine Siehl was found stabbed to death in her apartment in the city’s Moxham section – Centre County Senior Judge David Grine granted a post-conviction petition for Kevin Charles Siehl, 60, who has been serving a life sentence at SCI-Huntingdon since he was 36 years old.
Without an appeal, the case will go to a Cambria County jury, although prosecutors often pursue pleas for reduced charges and credit for time served in similar cases.
"The office is not appealing the PCRA ruling," said Jeffrey Johnson, acting deputy press secretary for the AG's office.
"We are currently in the process of reviewing our options to determine the appropriate course of action."
Many overturned death penalty or life sentence cases resulting in acquittal have brought large lawsuits against the counties where the original convictions took place, but it's unclear whether this could be a possibility in Siehl's case.
Siehl, who has maintained his innocence and filed numerous appeals since his conviction, was charged, based in part, on blood evidence from the scene and some of his personal items.
Prosecutors alleged that Siehl's estranged wife was stabbed more than 20 times and left in a bathtub with the water running in an effort to wash away evidence.
Within Grine's opinion, he alleges prosecutors and defense attorneys – two of whom are now Cambria County judges – withheld evidence and did not pursue further testing of key pieces of evidence during trial.
Grine said assistant district attorneys David Tulowitzki and Daniel Lovette learned confidential information from a defense expert and, based on that, ordered retesting on a pair of Siehl's shoes that appeared to have blood on them.
The results of those tests supported Siehl's original statement to police that the blood on his right shoe was his own, but were not presented at trial or given to defense counsel, Grine wrote.
Grine also criticized Linda Fleming and fellow defense attorney David Weaver for not pursuing chemical testing on the prosecution's most damaging piece of evidence – a thumbprint identified as Siehl's found on the shower head in the victim's bathroom.
Presenting testimony “based solely on visual inspection and assumptions” and not challenging the fingerprint evidence “was ineffective because it effectively admitted that (Siehl) was the murderer,” Grine added.
In 2009, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to district court for an evidentiary hearing on the effectiveness of Weaver and Fleming’s defense.
During a hearing in 2012, Fleming testified that she and Weaver had planned to challenge the fingerprint evidence, but were unable to find a way to limit their expert’s testimony during trial to prevent additional evidence linking Siehl to the crime scene from coming out during cross-examination.
Grine is handling the case because so many Cambria County judges have been involved in the case through the years.
The case was turned over to the state attorney general’s office in May 2010 because Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan served as a legal intern from 1992 to 1993 for a law office that handled one of Siehl's appeals.
Siehl is being represented by federal public defender Lisa Freeland, who did not return a call for comment.