JOHNSTOWN — A Cambria County judge said Wednesday he would not send convicted murderer Ernie Simmons back to jail for probation violations, saying his trip to a funeral in Philadelphia was justified.
And apparently, Simmons will return to the Just For Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach Center in Snyder Township, where he has been staying since May, according to the center’s director, Bishop Jack Wisor.
Judge Timothy Creany sentenced Simmons to six months to 10 years in jail for two of four alleged probation violations. However, he suspended the sentence so Simmons would not go back to prison.
Creany said he received letters from several Brockway area residents — including state Sen. Joe Scarnati — asking him not to send Simmons back to Just For Jesus, but Creany said those letters did not motivate his decision.
According to WJAC-TV, Simmons — who was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for the 1992 strangulation of an 80-year-old woman, but given a new trial and sentenced to a shorter prison term after a federal judge ruled in 2005 that prosecutors withheld some evidence that could have helped Simmons’ defense — has been in the Cambria County jail for a week after he traveled to Philadelphia to attend the funeral of his former attorney, which authorities said violated Simmons’ probation.
However, Creany said the trip qualified as a short-term emergency and was justified, even though the bus Simmons was on went through Dauphin County, where he’s not permitted.
According to WTAJ-TV, Simmons left Just For Jesus Nov. 9 to attend the funeral of one of his appellate attorneys who helped get him a new trial in 2005 and, as defense attorney Tom Dickey said, “saved his life. The judge himself even said he applauded Ernie for that.”
Creany said Simmons violated his probation when he did not charge the batteries for his GPS ankle bracelet, and would not submit a hair sample for a drug test when he returned.
Wednesday night, Wisor confirmed that Simmons was on his way back to Just For Jesus, where he has been living since May.
“We’re just awaiting his arrival,” Wisor said.