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Allegheny

Man freed by Innocence Project accused of child sexual assault

| Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, 5:51 p.m.
John Kunco as he is released from prison in May 2018.
John Kunco as he is released from prison in May 2018.

A man freed from prison in May after a judge vacated his 1991 rape conviction in Westmoreland County was arrested Thursday on charges of sexually assaulting a 7-year-old child at his home in McKees Rocks.

John Kunco, 53, previously of Harrison, was arraigned Friday on charges of aggravated indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, corruption, endangering the welfare of children and indecent assault.

Court documents list the date of the offenses as May 23, the day Kunco was released from prison after serving nearly 28 years of a 45- to 90-year sentence in an unrelated rape case.

Last week, officials received a Childline report from a 7-year-old girl who said she had been sexually abused by Kunco, a criminal complaint shows.

The child told officials she recalled lying beside Kunco on a futon, falling asleep and waking to Kunco sexually assaulting her. She said she was 6 when it happened.

Court records indicate that Kunco was able to post 10 percent of the $25,000 bail set in the new Allegheny County case Friday — but Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he believes that Kunco is in jail awaiting a mental health evaluation and is not expected to be released before Monday.

On May 23, Kunco was released from prison on a $10,000 unsecured bond after a judge vacated his 1991 rape conviction and gave prosecutors the option of a retrial.

A jury had convicted Kunco of savagely raping and torturing a 55-year-old woman in her New Kensington apartment.

Prosecutors said Kunco broke into the woman’s apartment in December 1990, blindfolded her with her underwear, shocked her with a frayed electrical cord, then raped her and forced her to perform sexual acts. At trial, prosecutors showed jurors photographs of a healed bite mark on the woman that experts said matched a dental imprint of Kunco’s mouth.

Kunco has maintained his innocence and received legal support from the Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is to exonerate wrongly convicted people using DNA evidence.

The Innocence Project on Friday said that Kunco has been fully cooperating with police since his release three months ago and described the new charges as “unsubstantiated allegations of unwanted contact.”

“These allegations have absolutely no relation to Mr. Kunco’s 1991 conviction that was recently vacated based on DNA and other evidence proving his innocence,” Karen Thompson, the Innocence Project attorney representing Kunco, said in a statement.

“It is important to remember at this point that Mr. Kunco has only been charged with a crime and should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise,” Thompson said. “As we know, wrongful convictions occur time after time because of a rush to judgment.”

The Innocence Project’s attorneys argued the bite mark evidence used to convict Kunco was based on faulty science. DNA testing last year of a blanket believed to have been present during the rape found no traces of Kunco’s genetic material and instead what the defense said was another unidentified male.

Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani ruled that with the new DNA evidence, the totality of the evidence presented against Kunco likely would not have resulted in a conviction at the original trial.

Peck said that prosecutors plan to go to court Monday morning to ask that Feliciani revoke Kunco’s bond in the New Kensington rape case.

“At this time, we are intending on retrying the case,” Peck said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha. Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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