Paragraph 8 reads: "Padilla told police just after the murders that he suffers from panic disorder and had not taken his prescrip-tion, Effexor, an antidepressant, and Klonopin, a narcotic prescribed for panic attacks, for about a month."
State’s experts link Padilla to murder weapon
BY KATHY MELLOTT
HOLLIDAYSBURG A microscopic examination of grime wiped from the hands of Miguel Padilla two hours after the murder of three Altoona men turned up gunpowder residue, experts testified Friday.
The last full day of the prosecution’s case against Padilla, an illegal immigrant who has lived in Cambria County since 1988, tied up some loose ends.
Among them were Padilla’s direct link to the .45-caliber handgun that was the murder weapon and an affirmation that seven of the eight bullets pumped into the victims came from the gun. The eighth bullet was too mutilated to provide a positive match, experts said.
Padilla, 26, could face the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Alfred Mignogna, owner of the private club where the 2005 murders occurred, Fred Rickabaugh and Stephen Heiss.
Friday’s testimony often was technical and tedious as the jury heard from a state police DNA expert, a state police ballistics expert and a ballistics expert from a private laboratory.
Despite the lack of fingerprints on the gun and Padilla’s alleged attempts to wash gunpowder from his hands at the Altoona police headquarters, the experts said sufficient residue was found on the backs of both of his hands to link him to the gun.
The defense will open its case Monday. An expert is expected to support the defense claim that Padilla shot the men while suffering from diminished mental capacity, and therefore could not form the legal intent to kill required for a first-degree murder conviction.
Padilla told police just after the murders that he suffers from panic disorder and had not taken his prescrip-tion, Effexor, an antidepressant, and Klonopin, a narcotic prescribed for panic attacks, for about a month.
“My mind is really blurry. ... This happened to me before,” Padilla said in a statement he made to police and read from the witness stand.
He claims he remembers going to The Palace, an Altoona strip club, with friend Travis Shumaker around 10 p.m.
But he said he does not remember leaving shortly before 2 a.m. or driving to the United Veterans Association, where an argument ensued and Padilla shot the three men.
Public defender Donald Speice late Friday was tight-lipped about his list of witnesses and would not reveal whether he plans to call Padilla to testify in his own defense or bring Shumaker, the instigator of the fight, before the jury.
Speice has admitted that Padilla killed the three men.
His strategy is to avoid a first-degree murder conviction and spare his client the possibility of lethal injection.
Always dressed in a navy or gray suit with a white shirt and dark tie, Padilla, wearing his hair shorter than the ponytail he sported at the time of the shootings, has remained stoned-faced during the trial, which will enter its fourth day Monday.
A slight smile creases his face when humor arises in the crowded courtroom, yet he has little contact with his mother; his girlfriend, Amanda Bianconi; and two or three other people positioned 15 feet behind him.
Courtroom participants line up early to pass through tight security instituted by Blair County Sheriff Larry Field.
Most of the audience of 30 or so are members of the victims’ families, primarily relatives of Mignogna, a retired schoolteacher, and Rickabaugh, the 400-pound bouncer at the club.
Heiss, who was caught in the crossfire, was a guard at State Correctional Institution-Huntingdon.
The Cumberland County jury was taken home after the close of court Friday and will return to Blair County on Sunday evening.