For former York cop, trial just a formality on the way to appeal

The York Dispatch (Pennsylvania)
BYLINE: ELIZABETH EVANS The York Dispatch

York, PA

A former York City police sergeant accused of stealing money from his department's evidence room will soon face trial, but the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Kurt Blemler, 48, of Meadowview Road in Franklin Township, is expected to be found guilty at his non-jury bench trial, according to senior prosecutor Tim Barker and defense attorney Harry Ness. That's because Blemler will stipulate to the facts of the case and present no witnesses or defense. On Thursday morning, Ness and Barker appeared before presiding Common Pleas Judge Thomas H. Kelley to apprise him of the development.

Kelley said his staff will set a date for the trial, which is expected to be very brief. "We're talking about a half hour," Ness told the judge.
Outside the courtroom, Ness and Barker said the reason for the unusual tactic is simply to clear the way for Blemler to appeal to the state Superior Court, arguing that he should have been allowed entrance into a diversionary program. Ness has said Blemler can't appeal until his case is resolved.

Temporary verdict? If the appellate court agrees the former sergeant is eligible for the program, his expected conviction would be overturned. District Attorney Stan Rebert agreed to allow Blemler into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which allows first-time nonviolent offenders to avoid conviction by instead completing court ordered requirements. But judges have final say over ARD approval.

And on Feb. 12, Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Brillhart refused to admit Blemler into ARD, saying "the nature of these charges eliminate" Blemler from consideration. Ness said he has legal precedent that shows the judge was wrong. "I think (his ruling) was contrary to the law in this case," Ness said.

And the District Attorney's Office agrees.

"We believe strongly that the law is on the side of Mr. Blemler being allowed on ARD," Barker said, because state law gives district attorneys "great discretion" in determining who is ARD eligible. The law also requires equal treatment under the law for all people, he said. "That applies to whatever job you have - whether that be police officer, newspaper editor or school administrator," Barker said.

Gano ruling: Both attorneys cited the case of Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Robert Gano, who was arrested in Hanover in 1998 for allegedly driving drunk while off duty. Gano applied for ARD and was approved by both Rebert and Common Pleas Judge John H. Chronister.

But Chronister reconsidered and removed Gano from the program, saying police should be held to a "higher standard." Gano appealed, and the Superior Court determined police cannot be held to a higher standard. He then got ARD. Before he could mount his appeal, Gano first had to go through a stipulated bench trial, just as Blemler plans to do, Barker said. Assuming Blemler is found guilty, he will be sentenced immediately, Ness said.

Barker and Ness said Blemler likely wouldn't get prison time, but even he did, he would be eligible for bail while his appeal is ongoing. Barker noted that for a defendant such as Blemler - a first-time offender who made full restitution and cooperated with authorities - a prison sentence would be "very rare."

Background: Blemler is charged with felony theft for allegedly stealing $11,021 from the York City Police evidence room between June 2004 and the fall of 2006.

However, the restitution amount that Blemler has paid reveals the amount was much higher. According to the York County District Attorney's Office, Blemler has paid $25,021 in restitution. Ness has said Blemler was "driven by a compulsion to gamble" and entered a hospital program for his gambling is-sues.

In the weeks before he was charged, Blemler retired from the York City Police Department with 20.5 years of service. A felony conviction could jeopardize his pension.

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