In the News

Convicted murderer wants new trial

By Phil Ray for the Altoona Mirror
December 3, 2010

HOLLIDAYSBURG – An Altoona woman serving life in prison for killing her boyfriend’s 4-year-old daughter more than a decade ago is requesting a new trial.

Rowlanda Lea Kenney, 44, claims that pertinent facts about the case were not made known to the jury that convicted her in 1998 for the beating death of 4-year-old Ashley Decker. Kenney is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.

It never came out during her trial that she was an abused woman, Kenney said. The jury also didn’t learn that Ashley Decker, the daughter of her then-boyfriend, Kenneth Decker III, had suffered a head injury in a previous fall down stairs – a fall that could have caused the youngster’s death.

Altoona police charged Kenney with first-degree murder based on evidence that the child died in Children’s Hospital, Pittsburgh, from a head injury caused by a beating she received on March 24, 1997.

Kenney was found guilty of first-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to life in prison. The girl’s father was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child and received a 3- to seven-year prison sentence.

Kenney is contending her sentence was “unjust” in view of the domestic abuse she suffered in silence.

Kenney and Kenneth Decker claimed the head injury came as a result of falling out of bed, a story police discounted.

A pathologist testified that Ashley died after being hit on the head by a “broad and blunt” object.

During Kenney’s trial, it was revealed Ashley had suffered repeated abuse, including a broken arm.

Blair County Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard is asking Judge Hiram A. Carpenter, the judge in the Kenney case, to dismiss Kenney’s petition because it was filed too late.

Bernard maintains that a post-conviction petition like the one Kenney has filed must have been done within a year of the final disposition of the case by the courts.

Kenney’s appeal to the state Superior Court was rejected, and the Supreme Court denied further hearing on Dec. 27, 2000. This meant Kenney had until Dec. 27, 2001, to file a post-conviction motion.

Kenney also knew since the beginning of the case about the issues she now raises, meaning they are not something new that was not available to her during the trial, Bernard said.

Carpenter has appointed attorney Tim Burns to represent Kenney in her request to reopen the case. Burns has until the end of January to file whatever additional petitions he thinks are necessary, the judge stated.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.