Judge delays robbery trial because of FBI
By Phil Ray, firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: July 23, 2008
HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County Senior Judge Thomas G. Peoples delayed a bank robbery trial because the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not forward its report of the incident to lawyers for the prosecution and defense until Monday, one day before the trial was to begin.
Peoples apologized Tuesday morning to the Blair County jury awaiting to hear robbery charges against David Eugene Houtz, 37, of Altoona, who was charged 23 months ago with the robbery at the M&T Bank in Martinsburg.
"I can tell you, ladies and gentleman, I am not pleased with the FBI. It is most disconcerting to me the history of this thing as shown to me this morning," Peoples said.
The bank was robbed Aug. 23, 2006, and was one of a series of robberies in Blair and Bedford counties.
By early afternoon, the combined efforts of Martinsburg and state police had traced the robbers to the Cedar Grove Motel in Logan Township, and arrests took place within a short period of time when several cruisers surrounded a car on Seventh Avenue near Fourth Street.
Houtz and Dwayne Harvey were accused in the robbery.
Harvey, who was allegedly in the getaway car with Houtz, was found not guilty last year of the robbery.
Houtz, who was identified by bank employees, has been fighting the charges, contending he was not the person who entered the bank with a gun.
According to Assistant District Attorney Doug Keating and defense attorney Ed Zang, local police and attorneys did not know that the FBI investigated the case.
During a recent pretrial hearing, Zang said he routinely asked one of the bank tellers if she had talked to anyone about the case prior to being asked to identify the alleged robber from a photo spread several months after the robbery.
She off-handedly said she talked to no one about the case since the original investigation - except for the FBI.
This recent revelation was the first time Zang and Keating knew the FBI had interviewed witnesses.
Both requested a report of the federal investigation but it did not arrive until Monday afternoon.
The time lag in sending the report may not have been fatal to the trial, Zang said, except that some of the statements given to the FBI by witnesses were different than the statements given to local police.
Keating said when witnesses were shown the FBI summary of what they said, they contended the FBI had gotten it wrong.
This confusion is important, Zang said, because it shows inconsistency in what witnesses apparently saw and is detrimental to the credibility of the prosecution witnesses.
Zang said he had to request a continuance so he can interview FBI Agent William Weiss who prepared the summary.
"I didn't want to continue the case. I wanted it to go. My client wanted it to go," Zang said.
Weiss, the FBI agent in question, was not available for comment Tuesday. He is located at the FBI's Laurel Highlands office in Somerset County.