10/30/2023 - Blair County Asked to pay for Expert Witness in Murder Trial

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County has received a request to provide a $15,000 retainer to secure the testimony of a forensic pathologist in an upcoming capital murder trial related to the 2020 tragic shooting that claimed two lives within an Altoona residence.

Dr. Kevin Whaley, who conducted autopsies for Blair County during his tenure as the lead pathologist at ForensicDX in Windber until August 2021, is currently employed at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

District Attorney Pete Weeks stated during a pretrial hearing for Isiah “Zay” Payne, aged 35, of Philadelphia, and Onya Lewis, aged 34, of Gallitzin, both slated for trial in December, that Whaley is an essential witness for the prosecution.

Payne, who faces first-degree murder charges with the potential for a death penalty if convicted, stands accused of the fatal shootings of Mikal Jackson-Stevenson, aged 28, of Philadelphia, and Natalie Washington, aged 52, of Altoona. The tragic incident occurred on May 28, 2020, within Washington's residence on the 2600 block of Beale Avenue.

During the pretrial court hearing, Whaley, who appeared via video transmission from North Dakota, inquired about alternative options to avoid traveling to Blair County for the trial. However, Weeks clarified that in-person testimony is a requirement for the trial, making video transmission unsuitable.

In response to President Judge Elizabeth Doyle's inquiry, defense attorneys representing Payne and Lewis were asked if they would be willing to forgo the requirement for Whaley's physical presence at trial. However, the attorneys, including Richard Corcoran and Thomas Hooper, who represent Payne, and Kristen Anastasi, representing Lewis, declined this option.

Judge Doyle also expressed skepticism about allowing such a significant witness to testify via video, especially in a death penalty case where an individual's life is at stake.

Whaley mentioned that his employer necessitates the $15,000 retainer to prepare for his absence, with daily expenses generally amounting to approximately $5,000. He anticipates an absence lasting three days, and he highlighted the potential impact of weather conditions and flight schedules at the Fargo, N.D., airport.

Weeks assured that his office would handle the arrangements for Whaley's airfare and lodging as long as Whaley is willing to travel and testify.

Both individuals are currently confronting numerous charges in connection with the tragic incident on May 28th, during which 52-year-old Natalie Washington and 28-year-old Mikal Jackson Stevenson lost their lives in Altoona.

According to law enforcement officials, Payne and Lewis had been involved in the sale of cocaine on behalf of Jackson-Stevenson from Washington's residence in Altoona. However, a meeting was arranged between the two sellers and Jackson-Stevenson after several customers reported to Washington that Payne had been involved in fraudulent transactions.

The police have revealed that Payne has admitted to the fatal shootings of both victims during the meeting, as he believed he was being set up.