First Posted: 7/8/2013
WILKES-BARRE – A Luzerne County judge and prosecutors said Monday a plea-bargain agreement was derailed by a letter sent from the mother of a Plymouth man facing a homicide charge in connection with September’s shooting death of one man and injuring of another.
The letter also led to two attorneys for defendant William Allabaugh withdrawing from the case. The judge then ruled the trial, scheduled for next week, had to be postponed to December.
Monday’s pre-trial hearing for Allabaugh, 25, of East Main Street, was supposed to be the last before his trial next week on charges he shot and killed 39-year-old Scott Luzetsky and left Stephen Hollman, then 29, injured at Bonnie’s Bar in Plymouth on Sept. 9.
Hollman has since been released from the hospital and is recovering from injuries.
It’s a shooting prosecutors say they have on video surveillance.
Allabaugh’s mother, Catherine Arnold, sent a letter to Judge Lesa Gelb last week that was filed in the Luzerne County Clerk of Courts Office asking that her son’s attorneys, William Ruzzo and John Donovan, be removed from the case.
Arnold alleged in her letter that the attorneys have not notified her or her son of hearing dates and have not obtained medical records. The letter also stated a conflict of interest exists in the defense Allabaugh wants to present, among other complaints.
Gelb said Monday she was disappointed with Arnold’s letter because the case was on schedule to go to trial next week.
Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino said Arnold’s letter violates a court-imposed gag order, and that the letter has possibly tainted a potential pool of jurors after articles appeared in local newspapers.
Ferentino said Ruzzo and Donovan are two competent and able lawyers, and that when a homicide is on tape it’s hard for any lawyer to defend the case.
“We have a murder on tape. You can get 100 lawyers, but that’s not going to (change what happened),” Ferrentino said.
Ruzzo said he and Donovan have hired a forensic expert, a neuropsychologist, a toxicologist and secured a number of hospital records.
Ruzzo said he and Donovan did advise Allabaugh it would be in his best interest to accept a guilty plea, and that that was their recommendation to the defendant.
“I believe we’ve done everything we should have done,” Ruzzo said, noting that Arnold’s letter has created an “atmosphere” that resulted in Allabaugh having no confidence in his defense team, and leading the attorneys to ask to be taken off his case.
Gelb said she wanted to hear from Allabaugh and held an in-camera proceeding – a private meeting for defense attorneys, a defendant and a judge – that lasted approximately 15 minutes.
After the closed hearing, Gelb said she would allow Ruzzo and Donovan to withdraw from Allabaugh’s case and will appoint attorneys from the county’s conflict counsel pool. The pool consists of attorneys who are appointed to represent indigent defendants whenever the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict of interest in representing them.
Gelb scheduled a new trial for Dec. 9. Ferentino said the prosecution half of the case should last about five days.