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Munchinski's 31-year murder case soon may end

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Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
David Munchinski, 59, talks to the media after being released from SCI-Pittsburgh on Friday, September 30, 2011 after serving 25 years in prison.

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By Richard Gazarik
Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The 31-year legal odyssey of a former Latrobe man who spent two decades in prison after he was convicted of killing two men may be nearing an end.

The attorney for David Munchinski, 60, asked a federal judge in Pittsburgh Thursday to dismiss murder charges against his client because the state failed to retry him within the court-ordered 120 days.

Attorney Noah Geary filed the motion to dismiss after a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Munchinski, formerly of Latrobe, was convicted in 1986 of killing James “Petey” Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, at Gierke's home in Bear Rocks, Fayette County, on Dec. 2, 1977. Munchinski was released from prison last year after serving 20 years and is living in Florida.

The appeals court ruled that Munchinski's conviction in Fayette County was “highly suspect” and tainted by evidence tampering, prosecutorial misconduct and an unreliable “eyewitness” who was not at the murder scene as he told state police.

A spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane did not respond to a request for comment.

For five years, the killings went unsolved until Munchinski and co-defendant Leon Scaglione of New Alexandria were arrested based on a statement to police by informant Richard Bowen.

But Bowen's statements to police were inconsistent, according to court records.

Bowen claimed he drove the two men to Bear Rocks the night of the murders. Initially, he told police Scaglione was the killer.

Evidence showed that Bowen was in Oklahoma at the time of the murders, and the car he said he drove to Bear Rocks that evening wasn't purchased until six months after the killings.

Bowen later committed suicide.

After two trials, Munchinski and Scaglione were convicted of murder and sentenced to consecutive life prison terms. Scaglione died in prison, but not before he admitted to the killings and exonerated Munchinski during a court hearing.

Munchinski began an appeals battle that resulted in a federal judge in Pittsburgh overturning his conviction. The state appealed the dismissal and a federal appeals court upheld the lower court's decision.

The court noted in the opinion that Fayette County prosecutors withheld a dozen pieces of evidence from defense attorneys that could have exonerated Munchinski. Prosecutors removed a paragraph from Bowen's statement to police that would have cast doubt on his credibility. A tape recording of Bowen's statement turned up missing after prosecutors were ordered to produce it.

Munchinski filed a civil rights lawsuit against Fayette County prosecutors in 2005. The case was dismissed two years later because the court ruled the prosecutors were immune from lawsuits.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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