Wilson found guilty of third-degree felony

LEWISTOWN — Following a trial and deliberations that lasted just over two hours on Tuesday, a 12-member jury found John D. Wilson, 30, guilty of retaliation against a witness, a third-degree felony.

Five witnesses for the prosecution and two for the defense offered testimony during the trial that lasted less than three hours. The victim testified for the prosecution that he was a Confidential Informant for the Lewistown Police Department in 2016 and that he participated in a controlled drug buy with

Wilson that year, among other alleged defendants, which ultimately lead to Wilson being arrested. The victim said he encountered Wilson in a local convenience store in April of 2018, and that Wilson threatened him, called him a “narc” and punched him in the face, while they were outside of the store. The victim testified that he told Wilson inside the store that he would not fight him, nor did he defend himself physically during the assault. The victim filed a report with LPD the same night.

Three LPD officers also testified for the prosecution. Detective Craig Snyder testified to using the victim as an informant in 2016 as part of a drug investigation against Wilson. Wilson, of McAlisterville,

was ultimately charged with manufacture/delivery/possession with intent to manufacture/deliver, to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced for in September 2016, according to court documents. Snyder testified that, upon his 2016 arrest, Wilson loudly professed in the presence of Mifflin County Correctional Facility staff that the informant– who Wilson knew by name– was a snitch and threatened to assault the victim because of it. Snyder testified that he noted the threat as part of Wilson’s preliminary arraignment documentation, which was provided as one of two pieces of prosecutorial evidence.

Patrolman Bruce Mann testified that he had taken Wilson into custody following the assault incident and that Wilson told MCCF staff he was being booked for beating up a rat. Kenneth McLaughlin testified to taking the victim’s statement regarding the assault, initially unaware that the victim had been a C.I. for Snyder and that he obtained video surveillance from the incident scene that showed the reported assault.

Amber Hiembach testified for the prosecution that she was an employee of the convenience store where the victim reported the assault took place, that she was not working at the time of the incident and that she provided the surveillance video to McLaughlin. The video was played for the jury, McLaughlin, Wilson, his attorney Jeffrey Davis and District Attorney Christopher Torquato, before being entered into evidence.

“My opinion is, this is a very simple case,” said Torquato, during his opening statement.

Davis offered no cross-examination to any prosecutorial witness, but called Wilson and his wife to testify for the defense.

“Keep an open mind and consider all you hear today,” Davis said, during his opening statement.

Nikisha Wilson testified that she was acquainted with the victim because of her employment at a local convenience store and that, while she was working one day in February 2018, the victim had attempted to purchase tobacco without identification. Mrs. Wilson testified that the victim called her both a derogatory and a profane name, when she refused to sell him tobacco without ID and that she told her husband, the defendant, about the incident. During cross-examination, Torquato confirmed that Mrs. Wilson also knew the victim because of her husband’s previous drug charges as well as her own drug charges.

The defendant testified that he assaulted the victim because of the victim’s alleged insults towards Mrs. Wilson. Wilson said he had been angry that the victim was a C.I., but was no longer angry.

During cross-examination, Torquato questioned Wilson about Mann’s testimony that Wilson said he was booked for beating up a rat, to which Wilson replied he did not recall making that statement. Torquato also questioned why Wilson never stipulated before trial to the alleged insult towards his wife as his motive for the assault and confirmed that Wilson had previously threatened to assault the victim following his 2016 arrest.

During his closing statement, Davis advised the jury that many of the facts presented by the prosecution were not in dispute, but that the reason for the charges were. Davis stated that Wilson had two years to retaliate against the victim for being an informant, but allegedly did not, and that the time for Wilson to allege his actual reason for assaulting the victim in April was during trial.

“Are you sure enough to convict him for this,” Davis asked the jury.

Torquato challenged the timing for Wilson’s testimony regarding his motive, reviewed specific points presented in prosecutorial testimony, including the victim’s testimony that Wilson called him a “narc” prior to assaulting him and asked the jury to decide the credibility of each witness, personally surmising that neither Wilson’s nor his wife’s testimonies were credible.

“Use your common sense,” Torquato said.

Judge Aaron Gingrich, who presided over the trial, advised the jury to conscientiously review the facts and the law, that the speeches of either attorney were not considered evidence, that the number of witnesses for either side could not influence their decision and that they needed to decide which evidence to believe, to judge the truthfulness and accuracy of each witness and to reconcile any testimonial discrepancies.

“You must presume the defendant innocent,” Gingrich said. “A verdict cannot be based on a suspicion of guilt.”

After the guitly verdict was issued, Torquato made an oral motion that Wilson’s bail be modified, per Rule 521, due to an outstanding non-traffic summary warrant in Mount Carmel. According to 234 Pa Code Rule 521, “the defendant shall have the same right to bail after verdict and before the imposition of sentence as the defendant had before verdict … unless the judge makes a finding … that no one or more conditions of bail will reasonably ensure that the defendant will appear and comply with the conditions of the bail bond; or … that the defendant poses a danger to any other person or to the community or to himself or herself.”

Gingrich granted the motion and modified Wilson’s bail to $50,000 unsecured and supervised, ordered a pre-sentence investigation and scheduled Wilson for sentencing on May 17.