ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — An Altoona man has pleaded guilty to all charges including 2nd-degree murder relating to the death of a corrections officer in 2021.

According to Blair County District Attorney Pete Weeks, Christopher Aikens, 56, pleaded guilty to all charges in two criminal cases against him during jury selection at the Blair County Courthouse. He was scheduled to go on trial in November but is now scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, Nov. 13. The court is expected to sentence Aikens to life in prison.

Aikens was originally arrested on Nov. 10, 2021, when parole officers visited his home on the 300 block of West Chestnut Avenue and found multiple guns, drugs, and a police badge belonging to a retired officer.


Christopher Aikens attempted to escape Central Court in Altoona, resulting in the death of corrections officer Rhonda Russell

While he was in a holding cell at Altoona’s Central Court building for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 17, 2021, Aikens tried to escape by assaulting Blair County Prison Correctional Officer Rhonda Russell, 47, and taking her gun. Altoona Police Sergeant George Bistline overheard the fight between Aikens and Russell and came to the cell where the struggle was taking place.

Bistline fired a shot at Aikens but ended up hitting Russell. The corrections officer later died at the hospital after life-saving measures were performed on her.

An investigation by the district attorney’s office found Bistline’s use of deadly force was legally justifiable and Aikens was not only a threat to Officer Russell but would have continued his escape unless he was stopped.

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Bistline died roughly three months after the incident from natural causes. According to Weeks, Aikens tried to escape the Blair County Prison just days before his appearance at Central Court. Aikens’s two criminal complaints totaled over 40 crimes.

Aikens was charged with 2nd-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, disarming a law enforcement officer, escape and 20 other related charges. He was also charged with 12 felony and misdemeanor charges including prohibited possession of a firearm stemming from his original arrest.

“We are pleased that Mr. Aikens pleaded guilty to 2nd Degree Murder and 2nd Degree Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer and, as a result, will be incarcerated for the rest of his natural life. It is our heartfelt hope that this conviction brings Officer Russell’s family and friends some small measure of peace and comfort,” Weeks and First Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith said in a statement.

On Aug. 30, 2022, a wrongful death federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Russell’s estate. The suit claimed her 14th Amendment right was violated by the county, the City of Altoona, employees at the Blair County Prison and other officials.

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