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Westmoreland

Vandergrift man again appeals murder conviction, sentence in daughter's death

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, July 12, 2018, 5:36 p.m.
Matthew Milisits, 36, contends his former defense lawyer incorrectly advised him to plead guilty to murder and failed to provide adequate advice to challenge the case against him at trial.
Matthew Milisits, 36, contends his former defense lawyer incorrectly advised him to plead guilty to murder and failed to provide adequate advice to challenge the case against him at trial.

A Vandergrift man has filed a third appeal of his third-degree murder conviction for the killing of his infant daughter in 2012.

Matthew Milisits, 36, contends his former defense lawyer incorrectly advised him to plead guilty to murder and failed to provide adequate advice to challenge the case against him at trial.

Prosecutors said Milisits flew into a rage and violently shook his 2-month-old daughter, Sophia Ludwiczak, during a three-hour visit Nov. 12, 2002. She suffered severe head injuries that led to her death, police said.

Milisits’ conviction and sentence were upheld by state appeals courts. In January, Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Rita Hathaway rejected a second appeal in which Milisits claimed he did not knowingly and voluntarily plead guilty and that the 20-to-40-year prison sentence she imposed was improper.

Milisits new court-appointed defense lawyer, Tim Dawson, filed court documents Thursday that claim the original guilty plea entered in 2014 was based on unsound advice from former defense attorney Philip DiLucente.

Dawson argued that Milisits was advised by his lawyer that he had no choice but to plead guilty to third-degree murder and that by doing so he would receive a prison sentence of no more than 10 years.

“Trial counsel did not respond and pursue defendant’s desire to inform the prosecuting state troopers of the entire course of events which resulted in the death of his infant child. This evidence, if believed, would have constituted exculpatory evidence in regard to the third-degree murder charge filed in this case,” Dawson wrote.

DiLucente said it would be unethical for him to comment on a case that is under appeal.

Dawson said that evidence from a doctor and testimony from family members would have enabled a jury to determine the child’s death was accidental.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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