HOLLIDAYSBURG — A replacement attorney will be appointed for one of the four teenagers facing murder and related criminal charges in the Feb. 25 shooting death of 15-year-old Devon Pfirsching of Altoona.
Blair County President Judge Elizabeth Doyle granted permission Thursday for defense attorney Robert Donaldson of Hollidaysburg to withdraw from representing 16-year-old Owen Southerland of Altoona. The request, Donaldson said, was based on a letter he received from Southerland.
Southerland, who participated in Thursday’s hearing by video transmission from the Blair County Prison, repeatedly affirmed his desire for a new attorney.
Doyle, when questioning Southerland, told him there’s no guarantee that a replacement attorney will devote more time to his case than Donaldson did. She also said that if she appoints another attorney, it would be very unlikely for her to consider a similar request in the future.
“You don’t get counsel of your own choosing unless you hire one,” she said.
Doyle’s questioning and comments didn’t deter Southerland.
“It’s not just a conflict in personality. It’s much deeper,” Southerland’s mother, Stacey Jackson of Altoona, told the judge.
Jackson participated in the hearing by video transmission and the judge acknowledged receiving a letter from her, asking about the lack of action on the request for a new attorney.
Court records show Donaldson, on April 8, filed the motion seeking permission to withdraw as Southerland’s attorney. That would have been at a time when the county court was operating with a minimal schedule to restrict potential COVID-19 spread. The court has since resumed operations, but judges have been using video and audio technology to reduce the amount of in-person proceedings.
Donaldson also advised Doyle on Thursday that even though he filed the withdrawal motion in April, he has continued to meet his obligations. He said that included the filing of a petition for Southerland’s pending psychological examination. That exam, to be paid for by the county, will play a role in determining if Southerland’s criminal charges remain in adult court or if they will be transferred to juvenile court.
Southerland, who is accused of firing the fatal shot that killed Pfirsching, is facing first-degree murder and second-degree murder in Pfirsching’s death, plus related offenses. Co-defendants Logan Persing, 16; Damien Green, 15; and Omedro T. Davis Jr., 16, are each charged with second-degree murder and related offenses.
Court documents indicate that the youths plotted to lure Pfirsching to the 100 block of Fourth Avenue where they would rob Pfirsching of marijuana.
Doyle offered no time frame as to how soon she will be able to identify a new attorney for Southerland.
Defense attorneys Dan Kiss, Thomas M. Dickey and Scott N. Pletcher currently represent Green, Persing and Davis, respectively.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.
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