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Accused former corrections officer says he 'tried to be fair' to inmates

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 1:46 p.m.

Harry Nicoletti is more believable than 30 current or former inmates who claimed the former corrections officer at State Correctional Institution in Woods Run physically and sexually abused them, his defense attorney said Thursday.

“This is a case that is founded entirely on credibility,” his attorney, Steve Colafella, said during closing arguments. “There's no video, no medical records. There's no smoking gun you have to hang your hat on,” he told the jury. “You should disbelieve them, in part, because they are convicted criminals.”

Colafella's closing arguments — after an 11-day trial that included 58 witnesses — centered on what he described as a “human social network” within the state's prison system and inmates whose testimony was “all written from the same script.”

Colafella also challenged former officer Curtis J. Hoffman's testimony, calling him a liar and a “sociopath” who bragged about working on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's Corvette, being a half-owner of Napa Auto Parts and working on the Goodyear Blimp.

“That's the guy trying to drive the nail in (Nicoletti's) coffin,” he said.

Prosecutors accused Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis of targeting inmates convicted of sex crimes involving minors. He is charged with 80 counts that include involuntary deviate sexual assault and official oppression.

Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman said the inmates' stories aligned because they are true.

“There is no way they worked in some kind of conspiracy,” he said. “It is impossible to believe those individuals could relay the same story unless it actually happened.”

Pittman said Hoffman's statement remained consistent. He said Hoffman lost his job, was “deemed a rat” by former co-workers, was told by his union to “go pound salt,” and lost his home over being a witness.

“To think Hoffman is a liar ... that's just wrong. He's clearly a big loser in this case.”

Earlier Thursday, Nicoletti took the stand in his own defense for the second day, telling jurors he could not recall the majority of his accusers or other inmates who said they witnessed criminal behavior. He said he did not know why inmates singled him out for wrongdoing.

“That is the million-dollar question,” he said. “I wish I knew the answer.”

During his closing, Pittman responded directly to Nicoletti: “The million-dollar answer is because it's true. That's the only explanation.”

Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman will prepare the jury for deliberations on Friday. morning.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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