Judge won't dismiss murder charges against former Latrobe man
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.
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.
- Dining at Applebee’s helps Jacobs Creek Area Faith in Action
- H&M to open in Westmoreland Mall
- Greensburg still fighting waterlogged Lynch Field, may add drainage
- Witnesses recount Franklin Regional stabbing
- Youngwood officials defend rules for rentals
- Sounds of Christmas coming to Fay-West region
- Salvation Army raises goals for Red Kettle campaigns in Westmoreland
- Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, Youngwood discuss sewage system sale
- Trio of concerts to mark Greensburg’s holiday season
- Westmoreland County, Mt. Pleasant Borough officials try to solve Willow parking issue
- Westmoreland County Judge Regoli has 5 days to decide on whether he’ll ask for recount