In the News

Convicted killer wants case reviewed, Supreme Court 2011 ruling reason for man’s request

By Phil Ray (pray@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror
December 7, 2012

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Another former Blair County resident who is serving life without parole for a murder committed when he was young has asked for a review of his case and a possible new sentence that would permit him to eventually be freed from prison.

Lee I. Green, who was convicted for a 1978 murder, has spent the past 34 years behind bars. This week he sent a one-page letter to Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva, stating he wants to “have my case reviewed for a reduction of sentence.”

Kopriva assigned the case to attorney Timothy Burns, who is handling many of Blair County’s criminal appeals.

Burns said Thursday he has not yet received notification of the appointment, but he said the Green case would be among several in which individuals convicted of murder many years ago and who received life without parole are now asking for a court review.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling last summer, declared that life without parole for juveniles – individuals under 18 years of age – was on its face cruel and unusual punishment because of the immaturity of young people who may have given little thought to the consequences of their acts.

The 5-4 decision in an Alabama case written by Justice Elena Kagan did not rule out life without parole but said the states “must provide some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

While the Supreme Court focused on life without parole sentences imposed on juveniles, it raised the question of whether individuals in their 20s were mature enough to understand the consequences of killing someone.

Burns and Kopriva said on Thursday that Blair County is waiting for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to provide guidance as to how the decision will apply in the state. For instance, the Kagan opinion did not specifically say that the decision was retroactive and therefore applicable to long-settled cases like Green’s.

Pennsylvania’s highest court is attempting to address that issue now.

Green, who will be 58 years old next month, was arrested in 1978 for the murder of Gerald Westbrook, 23, during an argument over drugs in an Eighth Avenue Apartment. Green was upset because he believed his friends stole money and drugs from him.

The case was prosecuted by now-Senior Judge Thomas G. Peoples Jr., who told the jury that Green’s world centered on guns and narcotics.

The defense was provided by the late John Woodcock, who was the county’s public defender. He contended Green was under the influence of drugs when the shooting occurred.

Others who have filed petitions to have their murder convictions reviewed include: Kristen Edmundson and Marie Seilhamer, convicted of killing a 20-year-old Hollidaysburg woman; Christopher M. Yon, who smothered an elderly woman with a pillow during a robbery; James Franklin Rodgers, who stabbed to death an elderly man during a robbery; and Leonard Bocchicchio, who used a bowling ball to kill the owner of a local business.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.

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