Fayette asked to foot more bills
A third person named in a civil lawsuit filed by a former Latrobe man who was released from prison when his homicide conviction was dismissed wants Fayette County to foot his legal bills.
The county is already covering the legal fees for two of the defendants, senior Common Pleas Judges Gerald Solomon and Ralph Warman.
The two are defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by David Joseph Munchinski, 61. Munchinski is seeking unspecified damages from the judges and a former prosecutor, John A. Kopas III.
The two judges prosecuted Munchinski in 1986 in a double homicide in Bear Rocks before eventually being elected to the bench. Kopas was a prosecutor with the district attorney's office at the time.
Commissioners earlier this month hired Thomas Pellis, of the Meyer Darragh law firm, to represent the judges because their insurance carrier will not pay the judges' defense fees. The insurer, Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool, did not insure the county at the time the case originated.
Kopas currently is represented by attorneys through his private insurance carrier. One of his attorneys, Bethann Lloyd of Pittsburgh, has formally requested the county pay Kopas' legal fees and any judgment.
In a letter to the county, Lloyd indicates the county is responsible for Kopas' legal fees because he worked for the district attorney's office at the time of Munchinski's prosecution.
Ken Burkley, county solicitor, said he is looking into the request. Burkley said Kopas had not previously made a formal request for representation. Solomon and Warman, he said, made such requests immediately after the civil lawsuit was filed.
Burkley said he is still looking into the possibility of having the state take over legal costs and any judgment. He said that when the case was prosecuted, the three men were representing the commonwealth, as opposed to the county.
In addition to Solomon, Warman and Kopas, Munchinski's suit includes the estate of investigating Trooper George Fayock. Solomon, Warman and Kopas prosecuted the case, known as the “Bear Rocks murders.”
Munchinski was exonerated in June when Fayette County Judge Nancy Vernon dismissed homicide charges following a protracted appeals battle that overturned Munchinski's November 1986 conviction in the Dec. 2, 1977 slayings of James “Petey” Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, at Gierke's Bear Rocks home.
Two life sentences were imposed in 1987.
Munchinski was released on bail in 2011 when a federal judge overturned the guilty verdict. Prosecutors declined to retry Munchinski.
The suit claims that Solomon, Warman and Fayock withheld evidence in the 1980s indicating that another suspect confessed to the killings and investigative reports that contradicted a prosecution witness's statement.
Had that evidence been shared with the defense, Munchinski “would have been found not guilty and acquitted of all charges,” the suit states.
In September 2011, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the guilty verdict against Munchinski was “highly suspect” and tainted by evidence tampering, prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable “eyewitness” who was not in the state at the time of the murders.
Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 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.
- Fire at North Union industrial building ruled accidental
- Geibel grad dreams big, lands role in second feature film
- Couple hope Connellsville shop will attract trail users
- Uniontown Lady Red Raiders softball players playing with heart
- Laurel Highlands teacher ‘humbled’ by St. Vincent award
- Connellsville to host job fair
- 3 oppose incumbent GOP Fayette commissioner
- Suspect held in Connellsville robbery
- Fayette judge: Man not competent to stand trial for fatal stabbing
- Trail preparation commences in Connellsville
- 12th annual Connellsville Community Yard Sale around corner