Charges dropped in Allegheny rape case delayed by paperwork glitch
Allegheny County prosecutors on Wednesday dropped most charges against a Wilkinsburg man whose long wait for a trial on rape charges exposed communication problems between investigators, court officials and the District Attorney's Office.
David L. Bradford, 33, pleaded no contest to unlawful restraint in exchange for prosecutors dropping seven charges connected to the September 2008 attack. Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel sentenced him to two years of probation.
“They came in and made an offer that we really couldn't refuse,” said Kevin Abramovitz, Bradford's lawyer. “I think the commonwealth recognized we weren't backing down and saw the weaknesses and limitations in their case.”
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said his office offered a plea deal because the victim did not want to testify. There was other evidence, but “it hinged on certain aspects (of the victim's) testimony,” he said.
“Charging something and proving something sometimes are two different matters,” Zappala said.
Bradford spent more than a year in jail, unable to post $100,000 bond, without a trial after a hearing before Wilkinsburg District Judge Kim Hoots on charges he raped a woman at knifepoint.
Common Pleas Judge Randal B. Todd dismissed the charges in November 2009 under Rule 600, which requires the commonwealth bring defendants to trial within 180 days if they are in custody.
A Superior Court panel initially upheld Todd's decision. A ruling written by Zappala's predecessor, Judge Robert Colville, cited a “lack of due diligence” by prosecutors, who said they did not get paperwork from the hearing.
The state Supreme Court reversed that and ordered the case to proceed, blaming the delay on Hoots' office.
Hoots could not be reached for comment.
Court officials said they could not pinpoint the reason why Bradford's paperwork did not get from Wilkinsburg to Downtown.
District court administrator Claire Capristo said officials made no changes to the way documents are sent from the 48 satellite courts to the courthouse. The district courts send some documents electronically. Original signed paperwork is sent by mail.
“It just seemed to be an inadvertent act,” Capristo said of Bradford's case.
Zappala said Wilkinsburg police were at least partially to blame for shortcomings of the investigation.
“There is a very substantial difference in abilities of police agencies,” he said. “Some are good at what they do. Some are not as good at investigating certain kinds of crimes.”
Wilkinsburg police Chief Ophelia Coleman did not return calls.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.