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District attorney vetoes Cheswick councilman's plea deal

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 1:41 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Cheswick Councilman Jonathan Skedel

Allegheny County prosecutors withdrew simple assault and harassment charges filed last October against Cheswick Councilman Jonathan Skedel, but the case isn't over.

Mike Manko, Allegheny County District Attorney office spokesman, said charges will be refiled against Skedel, 57, of Highland Avenue, Cheswick, because the district attorney's office “wasn't part of the agreement proposed” at Skedel's preliminary hearing in Plum in January. Manko declined to elaborate.

The oral agreement reached at District Judge Linda Zucco's office called for Skedel to surrender two hunting rifles, a shotgun and a pistol to the county sheriff's department, give up a permit that allowed him to legally carry a concealed handgun, and to take anger management classes.

No written documents were used for the agreement.

Zucco said the proposal would have been reviewed by a county judge before final action could be taken.

Zucco had scheduled an April 24 hearing for Skedel, his attorney and an assistant district attorney to see if Skedel had met all conditions. She wanted to see receipts for attending counseling and otherwise complying.

“It never got to that,” Zucco said. “The prosecutor withdrew charges” on April 10.

On Oct. 17 Plum police filed the charges for an incident in which Skedel, who is a general contractor, allegedly got into an argument and pointed a .380-caliber handgun at a subcontractor and wrestled with the man when he tried to get the pistol away.

At Skedel's preliminary hearing in January, the subcontractor said he didn't want to testify. Instead, prosecutor Robert Heister had the man read a written statement he gave to police shortly after the incident.

A little bit later, Zucco stopped the hearing.

She asked Skedel, his attorney Philip P. DiLucente, the investigating police officer, and Heister to meet with her in private.

When the group returned to the courtroom about 20 minutes later, Zucco said the simple assault and harassment charges would be dismissed if Skedel met certain conditions.

Defense attorney upset

DiLucente, said he was “taken aback” at news that charges would be refiled against his client because he said Skedel had done everything to comply with the agreement.

If charges are filed again, “I will give a vigorous defense,” said DiLucente. DiLucente successfully represented Skedel on an unrelated recent case. An Allegheny County jury on April 8 found Skedel not guilty of assaulting the president of Cheswick borough's volunteer fire department and lying to police about that incident.

DiLucente said he was preparing to file paperwork to have the firearms returned to Skedel, but now such a petition must wait.

Allegheny County Sheriff William P. Mullen said Thursday that four of Skedel's firearms are in the custody of his office.

DJ, law expert: Situation ‘odd'

Zucco called the withdrawal of charges in this case “odd.”

A legal expert agreed.

Usually, an agreement is made at district court and, later, there is a check for compliance, said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who is a law professor at St. Vincent College.

The district attorney's office decides whether to file or withdraw charges.

Agreements or plea agreements “can't be done unilaterally without their involvement,” Antkowiak said.

Such agreements aren't agreed to in writing at the lower courts, he said, but a district judge would place them on the record as part of the case, he said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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