Judge grants waiver of counsel in assault case

LEWISTOWN — Nathan W. Lauver, of Lewistown, will represent himself in defense of aggravated assault and false imprisonment charges, according to an order signed Monday by President Judge David Barron.

The order was issued following a hearing held Sept. 11, when Lauver, 36, filed and signed a waiver of counsel, requesting the right to represent himself to face the charges against him. Barron explained Pa Code 234 Rule 121, which outlined the consequences of waiving counsel. Barron further advised Lauver that the court would appoint a stand-by counsel and encouraged him fill out an application for a public defender.

Barron also issued orders denying an omnibus pre-trial motion and a change of prosecutor motion. Lauver requested the Pennsylvania Attorney General replace Mifflin County District Attorney Christopher Torquato as prosecutor in his case, alleging that Torquato is “guilty of professional misconduct.”

Lauver reviewed the timeline of his case, incidents that he believed coincided with that timeline and expressed concerns regarding Torquato’s relationship with Mifflin County Correctional Facility officials. Lauver advised Barron of difficulties he experienced while incarcerated at MCCF and claimed Torquato was directly responsible for the incidents. Lauver also claimed Torquato threatened the accuser with retaliation regarding unrelated charges filed against the accuser if the individual refused to testify against Lauver.

Barron noted in the order denying Lauver’s motion that “mere allegations of a conflict of interest are insufficient to require replacement of a district attorney. In order to disqualify or bar a prosecutor from prosecuting a case … a defendant must show actual conflict of interest between the prosecutor and the defendant.”

Scott Harper, Lauver’s attorney at the time of the hearing, filed the omnibus pre-trial motion, which challenged the legitimacy of the D.A. filing charges based solely on hearsay evidence. Harper advised Barron that the accuser was never called to testify at Lauver’s preliminary hearing, despite being available to do so, and that not calling the accuser to testify was limiting the evidence to hearsay.

In response to Lauver’s motion, Torquato called Officer Charles Miller from the Lewistown Police Department to testify about the incident for which Lauver was charged. Harper objected to Miller’s testimony, stating the information presented was still hearsay, which Harper argued was in violation of PA Rule 542.

According to court documents, Rule 542 stipulates that “hearsay, as provided by law, shall be considered by the issuing authority in determining whether a case (accepted as correct until proved otherwise) has been established and is sufficient to establish any element of an offense.”

Barron ruled, in the order denying the pre-trial motion, that the wording of Rule 542 itself determined “hearsay is sufficient to meet all elements of an offense” and that “the presence of witnesses to establish these elements is not required at a preliminary hearing.”

Documents state that Lauver was charged in May with four criminal counts after holding an individual at knife-point in a Catherine Street residence, physically assaulting the accuser and refusing to allow the accuser to leave the residence. A witness showed police screen shots of text messages purportedly from the accuser asking for help because Lauver was holding the individual hostage, was unwilling to leave and that the accuser was unable to contact the police. The accuser reported to police that Lauver issued multiple threats of bodily harm, had a knife, stood in front of the bedroom door to prevent the accuser from leaving and refused to leave the residence himself.