November pretrial conference set in Blandburg murder case

Ahead of a pretrial conference scheduled for next month, an attorney for a defendant in the April murder of a 23-year-old Altoona man says his client is expected to enter a guilty plea before his case goes to trial.
Johnstown Attorney, Art McQuillan, is representing 28-year-old John Mease of Bellwood in the case, which is scheduled for trial in January. Mease and another man, Damien Pierce, 31, of Altoona have been charged with criminal conspiracy to commit homicide, aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery stemming from the death of James Tucker.
McQuillan told The Daily Herald he had been in contact with the Cambria County District Attorney’s office and he expected “the case will culminate in the entry of a guilty plea” from his client.
Pierce’s attorney was identified as John Kasaback. He was unable to be reached for comment and McQuillan said he could not comment about Pierce.
Torone Dixon, 25, who died last month after a standoff incident at Cambria County Prison, was facing the death penalty in the case. He was charged with shooting Tucker. The man’s body was set on fire and he was left to die on a rural road near Blandburg in Cambria County.
District Attorney Patrick Kiniry said he could not comment other than to confirm a pretrial conference was held on Monday and another one was scheduled before Judge David Tulowitski on Nov. 21. He said the trial for Mease and Pierce was still scheduled for January. He also confirmed, Christina DeStefano is scheduled for a pretrial conference on Nov. 21. She was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery in the case. DeStefano is being represented by Altoona attorney, Thomas Dickey. He was unavailable for comment on the case this morning.
DeStefano’s arrest stemmed from events that unfolded on April 27 when she allegedly picked up Tucker in Altoona. Tucker’s body was found burning later the same night on Fire Tower Road in Reade Township. When Tucker left Altoona, he had thousands of dollars in cash and crack cocaine in his possession according to court documents. The Associated Press reported that court documents show DeStefano is alleged to have driven Tucker to the site where he was killed according to police.
AP reported DeStefano and Tucker smoked marijuana until the alleged triggerman and his two alleged accomplices arrived., After Tucker was killed, the three men and DeStefano returned to her trailer, police said.
In the days following the murder, police could not locate DeStefano or Dixon. Authorities received information that the pair may have been at a trailer in Grazierville the day after the April 27 murder. The trailer belonged to a family member of DeStefano’s and she and Dixon were due to move in on May 1.
Court documents show DeStefano told her grandmother she was being held against her will in a phone call placed on April 30. Police got permission to enter the trailer and no one was inside. Police obtained search warrants for the trailer and retrieved evidence. They also retrieved evidence from a car found near the trailer they believed Dixon might have been using. Police wanted the evidence in connection with Tucker’s murder and had concern about possible foul play regarding DeStefano.
A missing person’s report was filed regarding DeStefano and she later turned up in Philadelphia when she flagged down a police officer. The AP reported she told the officer she was being held against her will. Authorities said she had not been physically harmed. Dixon was apprehended in Philadelphia and transported back to Cambria County to face charges.
Mease and Pierce are currently lodged at Cambria County Prison. DeStefano is free on bail.