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Judge won't dismiss murder charges against former Latrobe man

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Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A U.S. District Court judge in Pittsburgh on Friday rejected a Latrobe man's bid to have his murder charges formally dismissed “with prejudice” because he did not receive a court-ordered retrial within 120 days.

Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan issued a brief, handwritten ruling denying David J. Munchinski's request to have the murder charges against him formally dismissed.

“(The) court lacks the authority to grant this motion and it is therefore denied,” Lenihan wrote.

Lenihan's decision occurred a day after the state Attorney General's Office filed an objection to Munchinski's request.

Deputy Attorney General Gregory J. Simatic argued in a motion filed on Thursday that the matter was moot because Munchinski, 60, has been released from prison in connection with the 1977 murders.

“Munchinski has been released from custody and (probation) supervision. He has therefore received all the relief to which he is entitled from the court,” Simatic wrote in a two-page reply to Munchinski's motion.

Simatic further asked that Munchinski's motion be dismissed.

Munchinski's attorney, Noah Geary, last month filed a motion to dismiss after a ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Geary could not be reached for comment.

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 had claimed to state police.

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 his statements to police were inconsistent, according to court records.

Bowen claimed he drove the two men to Bear Rocks on the night of the murders. Initially, he told police that 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 was not 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 vanished when 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.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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