As police continue to search a corner of rural Huntingdon County for the remains of Sherry Leighty, the man at the center of the investigation into her suspected death nearly 14 years ago appeared in court for a hearing on charges he assaulted police during questioning last week.
Kenneth W. Leighty, 65, of Altoona waived his preliminary hearing Wednesday on aggravated assault and related charges. Blair County Chief Deputy District Attorney Wade Kagarise said while Leighty's bail remains set at $250,000 cash, it was possible his public defender would seek a reduction in Blair County Court.
"We take any case with the assault of a police officer very seriously," said Kagarise, adding the District Attorney's Office is pressing forward with the felony assault case that potentially could lead to jail time for Leighty.
Kagarise said prosecutors have been working closely with Huntingdon County police and prosecutors on the open investigation unfolding in Warriors Mark, where police suspect Kenneth Leighty buried Sherry Leighty, his former daughter-in-law.
Sherry Leighty disappeared in 1999 after she was supposedly dropped off at work by her father-in-law. On Friday, police caught a break in the case after Leighty allegedly made incriminating comments to his son on a phone call set up by police. According to search warrants in the case, Leighty admitted, "I did it" but said it was an accident, before telling his son that Sherry Leighty was buried along a fence line on the 150-acre property.
Huntingdon County District Attorney George Zanic said in a press release on Wednesday that there were no new developments in the search for Sherry Leighty's remains. Police and searchers from numerous agencies began the search Saturday and are focusing on several areas of the mostly wooded land used as hunting grounds by the Leighty family.
Kenneth Leighty has yet to be charged in connection with Sherry Leighty's disappearance and suspected murder. Kagarise noted that while a body is usually necessary to prosecute a person for murder, there have been cases where no body is found and a case is made based on circumstantial evidence of a death.
If and when murder charges are brought against Kenneth Leighty, the case can be prosecuted either where the body is found or where the killing occurred, Kagarise noted.
"Usually, jurisdiction is pretty clear," Kagarise said. "In this case it's not so clear."
He said the case is an example of two jurisdictions working closely together, both between law enforcement and district attorney's offices.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.