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Inmate to stand trial for murder

7-22-2014 Pennsylvania:

Lawrence Peterson, 44, who is accused of beating his cellmate to death at SCI Houtzdale, had all charges bound over for court following a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge James Hawkins yesterday at the Clearfield County Courthouse.

Peterson is accused of killing William Keitel, 59, in the cell they shared in the F-Block of SCI Houtzdale on Aug. 2, 2013.

Peterson is charged with criminal homicide, murder in the first degree, murder in the third degree, aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter, and recklessly endangering another person.

Under direct questioning by Clearfield County District Attorney William Shaw Jr., Corrections Officer Duane Hughes testified that on Aug. 2 at approximately 1 p.m. he let Keitel back into his cell after Keitel had finished his shift working in the prison laundry room.

Shortly afterward he heard some inmates yell, "Cell 42, he's killing him." Hughes said he and Sgt. Adam Miles responded to cell 42.

He said it took them about a minute to arrive and through the windows on the cell door, Hughes said he could see Peterson sitting on the lower bunk with Keitel lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

He said Keitel was in the fetal position, lying on his side unconscious and bleeding from the head.

"There was blood everywhere," Hughes said.

The prison medical staff was notified and Miles told Peterson that he was going to cuff him and asked him to stand in the back of the cell.

Peterson then stood up and stomped on Kietel's head and face two or three times before going to the back of the cell.

Hughes said Keitel did not respond to being stomped on and remained unconscious.

He said they immediately unlocked the cell door and Peterson was cuffed. The medical staff responded in about a minute after being notified and Hughes said they held Peterson in the back of the cell until Keitel was taken away on a stretcher.

They then placed Peterson in another cell in the cellblock.

Keitel was taken to UPMC Altoona where he died nine days later.

Clearfield County Coroner Mike Morris testified that an autopsy performed at JC Blair Memorial in Huntingdon concluded that the cause of death was homicide as a result of pneumonia resulting from blunt force trauma to the head.

Under cross-examination by Peterson's attorney, Mike Marshall of the public defenders office, Hughes said Peterson was the only one in cell 42 at the 12:15 p.m. inmate count because Keitel was in the prison laundry room working and had just returned to his cell when he heard the calls from other inmates that someone was being killed in cell 42.

He also testified that Peterson was assigned to cell 42 and was Keitel's cellmate.

Miles gave similar testimony as Hughes.

Gena Cogan, a counselor at SCI Houtzdale, also testified on behalf of the commonwealth. She said she was Peterson's primary counselor for the past six months and would meet with him weekly.

Shaw then showed her a letter Peterson wrote to the deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections.

When asked, Cogan said this is the first time she saw the letter but said it appeared to be Peterson's handwriting. She said she is not a handwriting expert but said she is familiar with Peterson's handwriting, as he would write to her often.

Shaw asked her to read a portion of the letter in which Peterson admitted to killing his "cellie." He said he beat him and choked him until he was unconscious and the guards arrived. And he beat Keitel again after the guards arrived.

During cross-examination, Marshall asked her to continue to read the letter.

In this portion, Peterson wrote that he was upset with Keitel because he heard he was talking about him behind his back. He said he heard that Keitel was telling people that he (Peterson) was a child molester and deserved to die.

Peterson wrote that, on Aug. 2, he confronted Keitel when he returned to the cell and said he saw Keitel reach into his pocket and believed he was going to pull a weapon out so he attacked him.

Under re-direct, Shaw asked Cogan if Peterson wrote anywhere in the letter that he feared for his life when he stomped on Keitel's head when he was lying unconscious on the floor. Marshall loudly objected and Hawkins sustained Marshall's objection.

Also testifying was Trp. Dave Patrick, who was the lead investigator in the case. Patrick said he compiled the medical reports and interviewed witnesses. He said Peterson refused to answer any questions. He said he filed the charges in January.

During cross-examination, Marshall asked Patrick if he had any further involvement in the case after filing the charges and giving it to the district attorney's office. Patrick said the DA's office did ask him to get additional information on the case after he filed the charges.

In his closing, Marshall asked Hawkins to throw out the first-degree murder charge. He said the commonwealth did not present evidence to show that Peterson intended to kill Keitel but did say there is enough evidence to bind over to court the third degree murder charge.

Shaw disagreed and said two witnesses testified that they saw Peterson stomp on Keitel's head while he was unconscious and the autopsy report showed that he died from blunt force trauma.

Hawkins agreed and bound over all charges.

Peterson is serving a 40-80 year prison sentence after being convicted at trial in June 2000 on the charges of criminal attempt/homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated indecent assault, and two counts of aggravated assault in July 2000.

According to the Morning Call newspaper on Nov. 16, 1998 Peterson smoked 36 bags of crack cocaine and went on a crime spree where he raped a 9-year-old girl and then stuffed a rag soaked with cleaner in her mouth.

He also attempted to beat a woman to death and stabbed another woman with a screwdriver.

Keitel was serving life in prison without parole for killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend at a convenience store outside of Pittsburgh on New Year's Day 1998, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette article. He shot his estranged wife, Michele Walker Keitel, 35, in the head with a .38 revolver and her boyfriend, Charles Dunkle, 34, through the heart during a custody exchange of their two children, aged 2 and 5. ..Source.. by Jeff Corcino Staff Writer

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