Beaver County sheriff faces six more charges
A visiting judge upheld six witness-intimidation charges against embattled Beaver County Sheriff George David in a court hearing that raised concern from a legal expert because part of it was held in secret.
When two witnesses answered questions in open court on Monday in Beaver, Mercer County Senior Judge Francis J. Fornelli asked attorneys to make closing arguments on the validity of seven counts against David in closed chambers.
The Tribune-Review and another newspaper formally objected. The judge and attorneys spent about 40 minutes behind closed doors.
“That is not appropriate,” Melissa Melewsky, a media law attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said of the private session.
Fornelli said he closed arguments in the pretrial proceeding to avoid further tainting Beaver County's jury pool and prevent the high-profile case from being moved to another county. Fornelli said no one has filed for a change in venue or to bring in an outside jury.
“This is a case that ought to be of great interest to people in Beaver County because it involves the elected sheriff. I believe the people of Beaver County ought to have a right to rule on it,” Fornelli said.
State police accuse David of keeping deputies Mike Tibolet and Tom Ochs “from truthfully reporting David's wrongdoing” in dealings with John Paul Vranesevich of the Beaver Countian news website. Police say David threatened Vranesevich with a revolver during an April 16, 2012, interview. The sheriff is accused of threatening to cut off and eat the hands of a campaign volunteer.
“I'm trying to limit all the arguments being laid out before members of the potential jury,” Fornelli said.
Fornelli issued an order to seal a transcript of the proceedings in chambers until after a jury is selected.
“Voir dires (questions used during jury selection to determine bias) and changes in venue are the appropriate methods to deal with potential issues with pretrial publicity. Courts shouldn't be blocking out the public in order to preserve a fair trial. That doesn't make sense,” Melewsky said.
Melewsky found it unusual that Fornelli closed the arguments while allowing witnesses' testimony to be open to the public.
State Trooper Daniel Mosura and Ochs testified at Monday's hearing, where defense attorney Lee Rothman of Pittsburgh tried to get six counts of witness intimidation and an obstruction charge thrown out.
Ochs, who was present at David's April 16, 2012, interview with Vranesevich, said he talked with David on the phone within 10 minutes of receiving a call from troopers who began investigating the incident that night.
“His response was, ‘You know nothing happened,' ” Ochs said, adding David repeated that numerous times in following months. “I believed that was our game plan.”
Ochs failed to tell investigators about the initial conversation for about a year and a half. He said on Monday that he had forgotten about it.
Fornelli threw out an obstruction charge but upheld three counts each of intimidation of the two sheriffs' deputies. David also faces charges of harassment, making terroristic threats, reckless endangerment and simple assault.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh adjusting to new bicycle lane, ‘stop boxes’
- Environmental teachers glean new ideas from networking
- Brashear High ‘little libraries’ program rolls out
- Icy roads, cold causing school delays, wrecks in Western Pa.
- Newsmaker: Cindy Marzock
- Second African penguin chick hatches at National Aviary
- The Exchange offers reward for information that leads to the arrest of person who shot Ross clerk
- Pittsburgh fraud case, Uganda-based counterfeiting racket linked
- German firm Nextbike to provide first 500 bikes for Pittsburgh sharing program
- Fall from Hazelwood roof kills man
- Motivation in slaying of Penn Hills couple remains unclear