SUNBURY - Moments before he was scheduled to go to trial on attempted homicide charges, a state inmate pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to aggravated assault and possessing a prohibitive offensive weapon and was sentenced to 8 1/2 to 17 years in state prison.

Ramon Aikeen Frazier, 23, who is accused of stabbing 24-year-old inmate Dashawn Anthony Harris in the neck with a six-inch metal shank at SCI-Coal Township Dec. 1, 2011, entered the unexpected plea and was immediately sentenced by President Judge Robert B. Sacavage.

The judge sentenced the defendant to 7 1/2 to 15 years on the felony of aggravated assault and 1 to 2 years on the misdemeanor of possessing a prohibitive offensive weapon, which run consecutive to each other. Frazier, who is currently incarcerated at SCI-Mahanoy, also was ordered to pay a total of $700 in fines plus various court costs and fees and avoid any contact with the victim.

The aggravated assault charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence and $25,000 fine. The prohibitive offensive weapon offense carries a maximum penalty of 5 years incarceration and $10,000 fine.

Additional felonies of criminal attempt to commit homicide, another count of aggravated assault, and assault by a prisoner, as well a misdemeanor of possessing instruments of crime were not prosecuted.

The charges were filed by Troopers Ronald Zanella and Kevin Kearney of state police at Stonington.

The commonwealth was prepared to present approximately 15 witnesses at the trial, while Frazier was scheduled to be the only defense witness.

When asked what prompted his client to enter the plea instead of facing a bench trial, Frazier's attorney, James Best of Sunbury, stated, "He wanted to accept responsibility for his actions. I think he got a big break with the attempted murder charge being dropped. That charge carried a maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years."

Best, who serves as independent conflicts counsel for the county, said the evidence against his client was "fairly strong" and he advised Frazier to accept the plea.

He added, "This is a sad situation. Mr. Frazier has been in prison since he was a teen and after serving this sentence, he will have spent half his life in jail."

Not gang related

Although Frazier is a member of a gang known as the "Crips," and Harris is affiliated with another gang called the "Bloods," Best said he believes the stabbing was not gang related.

Rosini, who noted the aggravated assault charge carries a mandatory sentence of 10 years imprisonment for Frazier, said, "We had some legal issues with this case. The victim refused to cooperate with us or testify in the case, which is not uncommon for inmates. Also, other inmates at SCI-Coal Township refused to cooperate. The security staff at the state prison did an excellent job in developing information for this case and the arresting officers did a good job as well. We believe it was an appropriate plea."

Rosini said Frazier and Harris were involved in previous incidents in Pittsburgh and SCI-Pine Grove, where they were inmates at one time. But based on information from the victim, Rosini said the stabbing while the victim was playing basketball in the west yard of SCI-Coal Township was a "personal" matter and not gang related.

The district attorney said Harris, who remains at SCI-Coal Township, has almost fully recovered from his stab wounds.

"He (Harris) is very lucky that he wasn't killed," Rosini said. "The doctor said the shank just missed hitting a nerve or artery in his neck."

Police said the shank was made from a piece of heavy-gauge fencing.

Frazier, whose legs were shackled during his plea and sentencing, was wearing an orange Northumberland County Prison jumpsuit and a black rosary around his neck. The defendant, who has a prior record score of four on a scale of zero to five, told the judge he reviewed the plea agreement with his attorney and understood its ramifications.

He declined comment when Sacavage asked him if he had anything else to say to the court just prior to sentencing.

Life-threatening injury

Police said Harris, who was attacked from behind and had the metal shank stuck in the right side of his neck, was conscious but complained of having no feeling in his limbs upon being treated at the scene and transported to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.

Harris, who was admitted to Geisinger with what police described as a potentially life-threatening injury, required "emergency operative intervention" by a neurosurgeon.

Police said Frazier is a native of Delaware and resided in the Pittsburgh area at one time.

According to prison records, Frazier is serving a 2 1/2 to 7-year state prison sentence on criminal conspiracy and robbery charges committed in Northampton County. Frazier was committed to the state prison system May 2, 2007, and was incarcerated at SCI-Pine Grove on July 26, 2007. He remained at SCI-Pine Grove before being transferred to SCI-Coal Township on April 12, 2010.

Harris, who is from the Pittsburgh area, is serving a 7 1/2 to 20-year state prison sentence for first-degree murder committed in Allegheny County. He was incarcerated at SCI-Pine Grove on Sept. 13, 2007, and remained there until being transferred to SCI-Coal Township on Nov. 15, 2011.