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Confession clouds Pa. drug case

April 07, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Chambersburg woman has confessed to a crime for which another woman was sentenced to jail last year, but that may not be enough to overturn the conviction.

LaShae Scalia, 23, said during a hearing Tuesday in Franklin County Court that she delivered crack cocaine to a couple at a car wash on South Main Street on Aug. 5, 1997.

Borough police, however, charged Scalia's friend, Heidi Statum, 23, of Chambersburg, with delivery of cocaine and criminal conspiracy. Last May a jury convicted her on the charges and she was sentenced to one to five years in state prison.

Statum, who is free on bail while she appeals her conviction, is claiming in post-verdict motions that she was wrongly convicted and had ineffective counsel, according to court records. Tuesday's hearing was held on one of those motions.

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Scalia said she sold the couple two grams of crack cocaine for $180. Early in 1998, Scalia said, she saw police arrest Statum "right in front of my house."

Scalia testified she called Statum at the county prison and asked her why she had been arrested. "I told her it sounded like something I had done," Scalia said.

Although she was called to testify at Statum's trial, Scalia said she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on the advice of Statum's previous attorney.

Two months after Statum's conviction, Scalia was charged with drug offenses by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Narcotics Investigation.

Police found 173 grams of cocaine in her vehicle when they stopped it on Interstate 81 in Franklin County, according to court records. That case has been transferred to federal court, where Scalia faces a minimum 10-year sentence if convicted.

Scalia testified Tuesday only after consulting with her attorney, Paul B. Orr.

Assistant District Attorney John M. Lisko asked Scalia if she was aware that confessing to the drug sale would not add to the mandatory minimum sentence she faces if convicted in federal court. He said any state charge would be consolidated with her federal charges.

"I can't see where one would affect the other either way," Scalia said.

Lisko also told her that Statum's conviction in county court was based in part on the eyewitness identification of Statum by police.

Statum's attorney, Gregory B. Abeln, said the two women have similar facial features and that police could have been mistaken.

But Judge John R. Walker wasn't convinced. "Heidi has a lot fuller face than LaShae," he said. "I don't look at them and see the same person."

Walker gave Lisko and Abeln until later this month to submit further written arguments. He said he would decide on the motions in May.

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