SUNBURY — It only took approximately 90 minutes Wednesday for a jury to convict a former state correctional officer of 43 criminal charges relating to two rapes and kidnappings and three attempted rapes and kidnappings in three counties between 2012 and 2017.
John Edward Kurtz, 46, of Shamokin, was found guilty of multiple counts of rape, kidnapping, aggravated assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, criminal attempt to commit rape, criminal attempt to commit kidnapping, burglary, sexual assault, simple assault, false imprisonment, strangulation, loitering and prowling at night and unlawful restraint.
The charges relate to the rapes and kidnappings of a Turbot Township woman and Jackson Township woman on July 20, 2016, and April 23, 2017, respectively, and the attempted rape and kidnapping of a Shamokin Township woman on Nov. 9, 2012.
In addition to the 33 offenses committed in Northumberland County, Kurtz was convicted of four charges (criminal attempt to commit rape, criminal attempt to commit kidnapping, burglary and loitering and prowling at night) relating to the attempted rape and kidnapping of a Mayberry Township (Montour County) woman between Oct. 1, 2013, and Dec. 17, 2017, and six offenses (criminal attempt to commit rape, criminal attempt to commit kidnapping, burglary, loitering and prowling at night, simple assault and unlawful restraint involving the attempted rape and kidnapping of a Franklin Township (Columbia County) woman on June 3, 2015.
A summary of criminal mischief involving the Franklin Township incident will be ruled on in the near future by Northumberland County President Judge Charles H. Saylor, who presided at the trial that began Oct. 6.
All the charges were filed by Trooper Joel Follmer and Cpl. Jeffrey Vilello, of the Pennsylvania State Police.
After being “charged” or instructed by Saylor, the jury of seven men and five women broke for deliberations at 11:45 a.m. before reaching a verdict at 1:15 p.m.
Kurtz, who will be sentenced by Saylor within 90 days following a pre-sentence investigation, showed no emotion after the jury foreman read the verdict on each of the 43 criminal charges.
As he did throughout the trial, the defendant sat stoically at the defense table before being escorted from the courtroom by Sheriff Robert Wolfe and several of his deputies.
As Kurtz was leaving the courtroom, rape victims, their families and friends applauded.
Kurtz declined comment to the media when asked about his conviction upon being led outside the courthouse to a vehicle for transport to Northumberland County Jail.
While being led to the vehicle, the husband of one of the rape victims who worked with Kurtz as a correctional officer at SCI-Coal Township, shouted at the convicted rapist, “Who’s going to tuck your kids in tonight? Nobody, you (expletive) piece of (expletive).”
Kurtz, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is married and has two children.
None of the victims preferred to talk with the media after the trial.
Kurtz’s attorney Michael Suders reserved comment about the jury’s verdicts.
Northumberland County First Assistant District Attorney Julia Skinner, who presented more than 30 witnesses and 88 exhibits at trial, deferred comment to Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz.
The district attorney commended Skinner for conducting an excellent prosecution of the cases and all the state police and law enforcement agencies involved in the intensive investigation and trial.
Matulewicz said Skinner put countless hours into the investigation and preparing for trial. “She routinely works nights, weekends and holidays to perfect her case and has a passion to see victims get justice,” he said. “She is a true asset to the DA’s office and I am extremely lucky to have her.”
He also specifically praised the efforts of Follmer, Vilello and Trooper Kevin Kearney, who was instrumental during trial preparation.
SHAMOKIN — A music festival and a community celebration of life are among events slated for Saturday in Shamokin and Coal Township.
A Music in the Park Fall Festival featuring food, music and crafts will be held 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Claude Kehler Community Park in Shamokin. A balloon and lantern release for anyone who has lost a loved one will occur at 4 and 7 p.m., respectively, at the Mother Cabrini baseball field in Springfield.
The After Hours Big Band will take the stage at Claude Kehler Community Park at 11 a.m., followed by Tim Burns at 2 p.m. and SilverHeel at 4 p.m.
After Hours is a 17-piece swing orchestra featuring the classic big band line up of saxophones, trombones, trumpets, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The band covers big band arrangements, including Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Les Brown, and the modern-era sounds of Maynard Ferguson and Brian Setzer.
Both After Hours and SilverHeel performed at the public park during the city’s Fourth of July celebration. SilverHeel has been performing classic rock music for more than 40 years, according to Dave Spotts, organizer of the event and member of After Hours.
“They are such great guys, and a really tight four-piece classic rock band,” Dave Spotts remarked.
Tim Burns will make his debut appearance at Claude Kehler Community Park, but he is no stranger to the stage. Spotts said Burns has played in various rock bands throughout the years and has transitioned into an acoustic solo act.
“He has a huge selection of music, from rock to pop with even some country thrown in,” Spotts said.
Burns was originally set to perform this summer at Claude Kehler Community Park, but his performance and those of other artists were called because of the pandemic.
According to Spotts, Lost Mine-d Brewing Company and Full Throttle Food Concessions are among at least 15 food and craft vendors slated to be on hand.
He said the spacious park allows people to practice social distancing. As emcee of After Hours, he will regularly remind attendees to abide by state and federal guidance regarding the pandemic.
“It’s going to be a nice event,” Spotts said. “It’s about bringing the community together through music and food. It’s also about looking forward, instead of looking backwards.”
A Coal Region Celebration of Life remembering lost loved ones will be held 2 to 7 p.m. at the Mother Cabrini baseball complex, at the corner of Logan and Wabash streets in Springfield. The event will begin by honoring veterans with the playing of taps and the national anthem.
The solemn event in memory of Luke Mirolli and Ava Mae Hauer will be marked with a balloon release at 4 p.m. and a lantern release at dusk, about 7 p.m.
Hauer, of Shamokin, passed away Feb. 4, 2017, at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville at the age of 4. A little “diva,” she enjoyed music and the outdoors, and played baseball in the Challenger’s League with Mother Cabrini.
Mirolli, 16, of Coal Township, passed away July 20 at the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville, surrounded by his family. He was diagnosed with Retts Syndrome at the age of 4. Even though he faced many challenges in life, he always had a smile and a hearty laugh.
The public is welcome to join the Mirolli and Hauer families in releasing balloons and lanterns in memory of lost friends and family members. Attendees can purchase the objects at the event or bring their own, which should be biodegradable.
People are also welcome to bring rocks painted with the name of a loved one that will added to a memorial rock garden.
Leo Mirolli, an organizer, said 60 lanterns have already been ordered, which he said should make for an emotionally charged moment. Appropriate music will also be played through the complex’s speakers as the lanterns float in the sky.
In addition to the balloon and lantern releases, the event will include kids activities, such as face painting and bounce houses, and approximately 30 booths manned by organizations as well as food and craft vendors, such as Unicorn Room, Jordan’s Pyrography, American Cancer Society and Grief Share Support group.
Mirollli said the event’s main goal is to “bring people together” and to send “our love to the sky.”
KULPMONT — Borough supervisors here approved a pair of ordinances Wednesday night to better monitor animals and noise.
The animal ordinance deals with farm and domesticated animals such as chickens.
Dan McGaw, who said he is a co-owner of properties in the 700 block of Pine Street, expressed some concern over whether the ordinance pertains to residents who already own such animals.
Councilman Joseph Dowkus said no one will be grandfathered in.
But the ordinance was “not written to make people get rid of anything,” borough solicitor Edward Greco said.
“Unless there’s a complaint, there’s no reason to get rid of anything,” he added.
However, in the event that a complaint is filed, Dowkus cautioned, an investigation will ensue.
In related news, a number of ducks and chickens that once were housed in and around a shed at a Spruce Street property have apparently flown the coop.
“They’re all gone now,” codes officer Heather Owens said, confirming a report from an unidentified audience member who said the creatures haven’t been on site for about three weeks.
However, a heap of manure was left in front of the shed, posing a possible health hazard, council was told.
Another complaint — this one about parking — was made by Harry Ginter, who said he lives in the 1200 block of Scott Street.
“When I get home from work, I have to walk a half block to get to my house,” he said.
Some discussion ensued about whether other residents of the street are improperly using signs meant for disabled or handicapped drivers.
“You have a legitimate complaint if the signs are being misused,” Chairman Robert Slaby said. “The 1200 block of Scott Street has always been a problem.”
He said Mayor Nick Bozza and police Chief Nathan Foust would convene a meeting to discuss the issue.
KULPMONT — The Mother Pauline Visintainer Religious Foundation, Kulpmont, was awarded $55,000 in grant money Wednesday through a $600,000 Trump administration and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiative to benefit community facilities in rural Pennsylvania.
According to foundation board member Bob Greco, the money will be used to repave the parking lot and replace a retaining wall and sidewalk at the center, which is located at 1150 Chestnut St.
“The way it was explained to me, this is a matching grant,” Greco said. “We will be putting $45,000 toward the projects and we receive $55,000 from the government.”
Greco said he considers the money a godsend, as it will allow the foundation to complete two projects that were slated to be finished this summer but halted due to coronavirus.
“Due to the virus and the economy, these were projects that we could not afford to do if we didn’t have this allocation,” he said. “The grant is good for five years. ... We’re hoping to get this completed next year.”
According to a press release from USDA, the grant announcement on Wednesday awarded $609,900 to foundations in rural Pennsylvania communities with a population of 20,000 or less.
“The investment funding may be used to assist in the development of essential community facilities in rural communities with extreme unemployment and serve economic depression,” the release states.
SUNBURY — Want to be sure your vote will count in the Nov. 3 election? Better make certain you’re registered to vote.
Monday, Oct. 19, is the last day to register before the November election.
“There are a lot of new voters this year ... a few thousand just in Northumberland County,” said Nathan Savidge, chief registrar/director of elections for the county. “It’s a big presidential year.”
The county has about 91,000 residents and, now, about 57,000 registered voters, he said.
“That means that two of every three residents are registered to vote,” Savidge said.
Anyone who wants to register to vote in Pennsylvania must meet a few criteria.
First, eligible voters must be a citizen of the United States for at least one month before the next election.
Second, you must be be a resident of Pennsylvania and of the election district in which you want to register and vote for at least 30 days before the next election.
And, finally, you must be at least 18 years old on or before the day of the next election.
“If you don’t vote, you surrender your voice,” Savidge said, adding that it’s “better to be an informed voter” who understands the candidates and what they represent.
People who have never voted can complete their registration process online or by mail.
If proceeding by mail, a new registrant must fill out an application, which can be downloaded at www.norrycopa.net/documents/elections/VoterRegFormBlank.pdf and printed. Those who do not have access to the internet can request a form at the board of elections office or party committee offices.
Registering online requires use of the online application form at www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/VoterRegistrationApplication.aspx.
Regardless of method, the application contains a few questions such as address and municipality of residence.
Another question refers to political party, but the registrant need not declare an affiliation with any party.
However, if a voter wants to participate in a primary election, he or she must register with either the Democratic or Republican party. In Pennsylvania, the last primary election was held June 2.
If sending an application through the postal service, it is due at the county elections office by Monday, Oct. 19. That deadline is determined and set by the state, Savidge said.
“Everything that we receive by the 19th is timestamped,” he said, “and after that, we’re not allowed to accept any new registrations.”
The deadline, which falls about two weeks before the general election gives election offices throughout Pennsylvania the ability “to have a little more control over the process,” he said.
Internally, county election offices still have much work to do, such as arranging for the printing of poll books, which are records of all of the registered voters in the county. The books are used by polling place workers and judges of elections who greet voters and direct them to the voting machines.
Once the elections office receives a new voter registration application, staff will process it and, if it is accepted, send a voter identification card back to the registrant.
The card may be requested as proof of identification when the new voter arrives at the polling place for the first time.
The location where voters go to cast their ballots are called polling places.
The municipality where each voter lives may be divided into sections sometimes called wards or precincts. Each ward is defined by a specific border and people who live in the First Ward, for example, cannot vote in any other ward.
Polling places are set up according to the specific ward or precinct, and voters must go to that specific site to vote.
In the event that a voter attempts to cast a ballot at the wrong polling place, “you would be redirected to the right place,” Savidge said. “You can’t vote outside of your precinct.”
If a citizen registered to vote several years ago but hasn’t actually voted for a number of years, a new registration may be required.
“People are able to check their voter status online,” Savidge said. The website for that is www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/voterregistrationstatus.aspx.
“You become an inactive voter after five years and a cancelled (one) after eight years,” he said. “Inactive voters can still vote. Cancelled cannot.”
That’s also a state rule.
“The general rule of thumb is, if you miss two presidential elections, you get canceled,” he said, provided you did not vote in any other elections.