Hearing scheduled in Clemons appeal

Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter

Jordan Clemons arrives at Washington County Courthouse in May 2015 for his formal sentencing for the 2012 murder of Karissa Kunco.

U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter ordered a stay of execution Tuesday until Jordan Clemons’ case is completed in federal court.

A Washington County jury in 2015 found Clemons, who turned 31 Monday, guilty of planning and carrying out the murder of his estranged girlfriend, Karissa Kunco, 21, of Baldwin Borough in Pittsburgh’s South Hills.

Her body was found in Mt. Pleasant Township, Washington County, in January 2012. Her throat had been slit.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel signed a notice of execution for Clemons Monday, scheduling the death sentence to be carried out March 13.

Clemons’ initiated a federal case Nov. 27. Assistant federal public defenders Ryan N. Norwood and Kirk J. Henderson were assigned to his case last month. They immediately requested the stay of execution.

Baxter’s order was served Tuesday on Wetzel, plus Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone; Robert Gilmore, superintendent of SCI-Greene, where Clemons is incarcerated; and Mark Garman, superintendent of SCI-Rockview, the designated institution where a lethal injection would theoretically be carried out.

Gov. Tom Wolf, however, declared a moratorium on death penalties shortly after taking office, and Pennsylvania has not executed a prisoner since 1999.

After the state Supreme Court upheld his conviction, Clemons’ case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review it last year.

On Clemons’ behalf, Norwood and Henderson initiated habeas corpus proceedings in federal court, Pittsburgh, which allows a petitioner to raise issues outside of those already appealed.

Karissa’s father Paul Kunco, of Baldwin, said that this stay is “what we had expected.” He said Vittone has kept his family abreast of developments in the case.

Karissa’s sister, Kayla Mihelcic of Pittsburgh, also said the decision was expected and that she will “push forward.”

“We knew that would be the outcome and still feel the same way,” she said in a statement. “As long as he’s behind bars he is not a factor in our life, and we refuse to give him any more attention. She is and always will be my only sister. As it was my responsibility as a big sister to fight for her life, it still is as in her death. Clemons has not broken me nor the bond that Karissa and I have always had.”

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