Court upholds murder conviction of Penn Township man |

Court upholds murder conviction of Penn Township man

Rich Cholodofsky

A state appeals court has upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a Penn Township man who was found guilty of the shotgun slaying of a Hempfield man four years ago.

But a three-judge panel of the Superior Court ruled that two confessions taken by Westmoreland County detectives should not have been allowed as evidence in the trial of Jason P. Maple.

Maple, 28, is serving life in prison for the May 30, 2006, shooting of 25-year-old William Teck. Maple was sentenced to an additional 12 to 30 years for shooting at Patrick Altman, who was with Teck when he was killed on the railroad tracks in Manor.

Police said Maple became enraged after he was told that Teck allegedly attempted to rape his girlfriend, Jennifer Vinsek, and then vandalized her apartment. Maple tracked Teck and Altman to a diner in Manor.

Teck and Altman were lured from the diner and followed to the railroad tracks, where Maple fired one shot into Teck’s back as he attempted to flee. He missed when he fired at Altman.

The rape allegation made by Vinsek against Teck was unfounded, according to police.

Maple appealed the conviction, saying he was illegally questioned by police.

In a 32-page opinion, Judges John L. Musmanno, John T. Bender and Mary Jane Bowes found that Westmoreland County Judge Debra Pezze should have suppressed evidence of two confessions because both were given before Maple was informed of his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent.

During the questioning, Maple was not handcuffed. Although police told him he was free to leave during the interrogation and he was not under arrest, it was reasonable for him to believe that he was in custody, the court said.

That error was deemed harmless, however, because it did not affect the outcome of the 2008 trial, when Maple repeated the contents of those confessions during testimony, the court ruled.

“While testifying, he merely expanded on the narrative that he gave to police by setting forth the details of his alcohol consumption and the specifics regarding his provocation for shooting Mr. Teck and attempting to shoot Mr. Altman. Thus, the erroneously admitted confessions were cumulative of other substantially similar and untainted evidence,” the court said in an Aug. 6 opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Musmanno wrote he was reluctant to find that Pezze’s mistaken ruling was harmless error.

Vinsek, 28, of Greensburg was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a life sentence. Her appeal was denied last month.

Brothers Dewayne and Nathan Shank of Adamsburg and Ryan Bronowski of Penn Township testified against Maple and Vinsek and were allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of third-degree murder for their involvement in the slaying.

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