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Suspects in Blandburg murder case accept plea arrangement

Two men accused as accomplices in the death of a man whose burned body was found along a dirt road in Cambria County have pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
John Minnow Mease, 28, of Bellwood, and Damien Manny Pierce, 31, of Altoona, were charged in May with criminal homicide and first- and second-degree murder in the April shooting death of 23-year-old James J. Tucker.
Both pleaded guilty Tuesday in Cambria County Court to aiding in the consummation of a crime and a conspiracy to commit robbery count. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 29.
Another man, Torone Dixon, 25, of Philadelphia, was charged with first-degree murder, criminal homicide, robbery and other counts in Tucker’s death. Prosecutors alleged that Dixon shot Tucker because he believed Tucker had stolen money and drugs from him.
Dixon was shot and killed Sept. 22 by a Correction Emergency Response Team in a hostage situation at Cambria County Prison, where he was being held while awaiting trial.
Cambria County District Attorney Patrick Kiniry said Mease and Pierce were prepared to testify against Dixon had he gone to trial. Mease and Pierce have told police they feared Dixon would shoot them if they didn’t follow his orders.
As part of the agreement, Kiniry said both men agreed to testify truthfully against Christina DeStefano should she go to trial for her alleged role in the case. She was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. He said the agreement states their testimony would be “in accordance with their statements given to the Pennsylvania State Police” that implicated DeStefano.
Kiniry noted that statements given to the DA’s office by Mease and Pierce about Dixon where consistent with DeStefano’s testimony at a preliminary hearing and were not inconstant with each other’s statements.
Kiniry said DeStefano’s attorney had asked for a continuance regarding a pretrial conference that was scheduled yesterday for his client. Kiniry said their was no new date set for the conference. He said the soonest any trial could begin for DeStefano was in January.
Kiniry is also asking the sentencing judge to impose consecutive sentences on both men for the two counts they plead to in the agreement. They each face 27 years and $40,000 in fines if the judge were to impose the maximum for each count and order the sentences be served consecutively.