Sunday, July 13, 2014

Attorneys in fatal hit-and-run may file new defense

Lawyers for the accused driver are considering a mental infirmity defense

August 15. 2013 11:12PM

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WILKES-BARRE – Attorneys representing a Forty Fort woman charged in connection with a fatal hit-and-run in 2008 said Thursday they may be filing a mental infirmity defense in the case.

At one of the last pre-trial conferences scheduled for Megan Panowicz, 28, her attorneys said the are awaiting a report from a forensic psychiatrist before filing any notification of the defense. She is charged in the August 2008 death of Sharon Shaughnessy, who was killed on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston when she was reportedly struck by three vehicles.

Panowicz is scheduled to be tried Sept. 23.

Panowicz’s attorneys, her father Robert Panowicz and Basil Russin, told Senior Judge Charles Brown they expected the report sometime Thursday but hadn’t received it yet.

Panowicz was originally scheduled to stand trial June, but her attorneys requested a continuance because of recent rulings Brown made in the case that caused them to rethink their trial strategy.

The attorneys previously said the re-evaluation of the case may include the calling of witnesses who are currently unavailable to testify because a different defense was anticipated, namely that Panowicz was not driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, according to court documents.

Deputy Attorney General Clarke Madden, who is prosecuting the case, said Thursday he was not expecting the mental infirmity defense, and had thought attorneys were going to use the defense that Panowicz was not driving the vehicle.

Madden said he will need time to file a response to the mental infirmity defense – if it is filed – and does not know if that will delay the scheduled Sept. 23 trial date.

The case is being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office because Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis had worked with Robert Panowicz before she was elected in 2011.

Attorneys also discussed a number of procedural issues to be taken care of before and during the trial, including questions to be asked to potential jurors and instructions to be given to jurors by Brown.

At some points during Thursday’s hearing, attorneys had heated exchanges about witnesses and evidence, which Brown said was straying from the hearing’s purpose.

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