In a 6-to-2 ruling Thursday, state Superior Court reversed a prior appellate court panel's decision and upheld the 2014 conviction of a former head of the Pagans motorcycle club from Westmoreland County on multiple drug charges.
A three-member panel in December 2016 had granted Dennis “Rooster” Katona, 52, of Hempfield, a new trial in Westmoreland County citing problems with the validity of the search warrant used in the years-long investigation.
The court previously ruled that police cannot use a single search warrant to repeatedly send a wired informant into someone's home. As stipulated in previous court rulings, “a separate finding of probable cause was required for each in-home intercept,” the court had stated in a 2-1 decison.
However, the state attorney general's office appealed that ruling as too narrow and Thursday afternoon the full court released its decision on the appeal. Katona was convicted by Westmoreland Judge Debra Pezze of two counts of possession with intent to deliver and two counts of possession of a controlled substance.
The full court said that even if the wiretap recordings were “removed from the equation, the Commonwealth lawfully obtained everything (Katona) relayed to the confidential informant.”
“Evidence is potentially suppressible as fruit of the poisonous tree stemming from unconstitutional police conduct. However, any such evidence may be admitted where the Commonweath sufficiently proves that it was discoverable through an independent source,” the 38-page opinion states.
“The search warrant application provided sufficiently specific information to conclude there was probable cause to believe that (Katona) would call the confidential informant on June 29, 2011, to supply more drugs. The judgment of sentence is affirmed,” the court wrote.
Joe Grace, spokesperson for the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said the office was happy with Thursday's decision.
“The Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro is pleased with the court's decision, which upholds the sentence and conviction in this case,” he said.
Katona's attorney, Paul Boas of Pittsburgh, did not immediately return telephone inquiries seeking comment on the decision.
Previously, Katona, former national president of the outlaw Pagans motorcycle club, had served 63 months in federal prison for his role in a 2002 attack on Hells Angels at the “Hellraiser Ball” in Long Island, N.Y.
Superior Judge Mary Janes Bowes wrote the majority opinion that was joined by Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, Judith Olson, Paula Francisco Ott, Victor P. Stabile, Alice B. Dubow. Dissenting were Judges Anne E. Lazarus and Jacqueline O. Shogan, who sided vacating the conviction in 2016 with now senior Judge Kate Ford Elliott.