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Scottdale man, 73, serving life in 1980 murder-for-hire plot, claims exculpatory evidence was withheld

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

A Scottdale man serving a life sentence in a murder-for-hire case is asking for a new trial or dismissal of the charges in Fayette County court on claims that prosecutors kept exculpatory evidence from his defense attorneys.

Joseph P. Frankenberry, 73, claims in an appeal that prosecutors withheld an audio recording and ballistics reports. He is an inmate at a central Pennsylvania state prison after a first-degree murder conviction in the death of John “Sonny” Tomasek, who was shot three times outside his Menallen Township home in November 1980.

According to trial testimony, Tomasek's wife, Phoebe, and her lover, Elmer Younkin, hired Frankenberry and Charles Huey to kill John Tomasek. Phoebe Tomasek agreed to pay $20,000, mostly from the victim's life insurance policy, in exchange for the killing.

She and Younkin were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The tape-recorded statements indicate that Phoebe Tomasek and Younkin discussed hiring Huey to kill the victim, according to Frankenberry's appeal filed under the Post-Conviction Relief Act. Also, a ballistics report shows the weapon recovered did not match the gun used in the crime, the appeal states.

“There was information that was not turned over to him that was exculpatory,” said attorney J. Andrew Salemme, who filed the appeal.

According to trial testimony, Frankenberry was the shooter, while Huey was the getaway driver. Huey received immunity for testifying against the three defendants.

The appeal points to two other cases in Fayette County court around the same time in which allegations of mishandling evidence surfaced and resulted in overturned convictions.

David J. Munchinski, 64, was exonerated in June 2013 after he served 27 years on homicide charges in connection with the 1977 killings of James “Petey” Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, at Gierke's Bear Rocks home. An appellate judge called the conviction “highly suspect” and tainted. Munchinski claims prosecutors destroyed a tape in which a key witness, who testified against Munchinski at trial, said he had no knowledge of the crime.

Munchinski is suing prosecutors in federal court, alleging civil rights violations.

Jury selection is set for Feb. 6 in the retrial of Mark Breakiron, 55, who was convicted 28 years ago of stabbing waitress Saundra Martin 20 times before burying her body in a shallow grave and taking her purse and bags of money from Shenanigan's Lounge in German Township in March 1987.

He was sentenced to the death penalty in 1988. His conviction was overturned when an appellate judge ruled that evidence was withheld during trial.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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