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State appellate court sends Billy Ray Boggs’ murder appeal back to Westmoreland judge

November 10, 2018

A three-judge Superior Court panel ordered a new appeal hearing for a Rostraver man serving life in prison for the 2015 murder of his sister’s boyfriend.

The appeals court ruled Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway should have allowed Billy Ray Boggs Jr. to represent himself in June 2017, when he sought to have his murder conviction overturned.

Boggs, 52, in September 2015 pleaded guilty to murder and abuse of a corpse in connection with the bludgeoning death of Thomas Guercio. Police said Boggs beat Guercio, 35, in the head with a hammer and then stabbed him in the chest. A day later, he dumped the body down a hillside near Kittanning, Armstrong County.

In an appeal filed last year, Boggs maintained he was coerced by his former defense attorney to plead guilty. He sought to withdraw his plea and take his case to a jury trial.

The judge appointed lawyer Emily Smarto to represent Boggs in his appeal. Boggs, in January 2017, said he wanted to represent himself. That June, the judge rejected Boggs’ appeal and his initial request to act as his own lawyer. Two months later, Hathaway allowed Smarto to withdraw from case and for Boggs to represent himself.

The appeals court this week said that decision came too late. Boggs should have been allowed to serve as his own attorney for the original appeal hearing, the appeals court said.

Boggs “did not tender his request to represent himself last minute and no meaningful proceedings had commenced when he made his request,” the judges wrote.

The Superior Court remanded Boggs’ to be returned to Hathaway to reconsider his appeal.

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