Mt. Pleasant man convicted in cousin’s fatal overdose seeks new trial
The first man convicted in Westmoreland County of violating a 2011 law allowing prosecution of drug dealers in connection with fatal overdoses was in court Thursday to ask for a new trial.
Michael Ulysses Peterson, 45, of Mt. Pleasant, is seeking to overturn a verdict against him following a 2016 trial in which he was found guilty of drug delivery resulting in death. Prosecutors contended Peterson sold the heroin used in the overdose two years earlier of his cousin, 45-year-old Samuel Christner, who was found dead in the bathroom of his Unity home.
During a five-day trial, witnesses testified Peterson sold the drugs for $50 to his cousin at a Youngwood convenience store.
Peterson is serving an eight-to-16-year prison sentence.
He now contends his previous lawyer did not adequately defend him during the trial and that he did not properly challenge evidence presented during the case and judicial rulings.
Trial lawyer Michael DeMatt defended his efforts during Thursday’s hearing, saying his strategy was to challenge the prosecution’s theory that Christner died from the drugs sold by Peterson. DeMatt, at trial, argued Christner had built up a tolerance to heroin and that alcohol and inhaled chemicals could have contributed to his death.
“The prosecution’s case that he delivered the heroin was strong,” DeMatt said.
Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, who presided over the trial, previously denied an appeal of Peterson’s conviction, ruling there was sufficient evidence to support the guilty finding. The state’s Superior Court upheld that finding.
The judge said she would rule on Peterson’s latest appeal after reviewing written legal arguments from his new defense lawyer, Emily Smarto, and prosecutors.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]