Westmoreland County prosecutors dispute defense claims in 30-year-old rape case
Westmoreland County prosecutors said defense arguments to dismiss a nearly 30-year-old rape case should be rejected because they are based on misrepresented facts.
In court documents filed Wednesday, prosecutors said there is sufficient evidence to convict John Kunco, 53, of Harrison of the brutal rape of a woman in her New Kensington apartment in 1990.
Kunco had served more than 28 years in prison when he was released last May after Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani vacated the rape conviction. In doing so, the judge called into question the evidence presented during the original trial.
Kunco, who had been serving a 45- to 90-year prison sentence, was released on nominal bond pending his retrial.
Attorneys for the Innocence Project of New York, who took on Kunco’s appeal, argued this year that a retrial isn’t necessary because the case relies on a faulty voice identification of the alleged victim.
DNA evidence found after the trial indicated that Kunco was not present at the rape scene and that bite mark evidence that linked Kunco to the crime was unreliable.
The defense also demanded that the judge end the prosecution because a rape kit taken from the then-55-year-old woman was no longer in evidence. Evidence from the rape kit could have exonerated Kunco, the defense claimed.
Assistant District Attorneys Barbara Jollie and Jim Hopson argued the defense’s arguments are unfounded.
“Such a sweeping statement again misconstrues the specific facts of this case and ignores the actual results of the test,” prosecutors wrote regarding the missing rape kit. According to the court filing, the rape kit contained no genetic materials that could be tested.
Prosecutors also rebutted defense claims that challenged the victim’s voice identification of Kunco as her assailant.
They said the now-deceased woman, as she was initially questioned by police following the rape report, told investigators that Kunco, a former maintenance man at her apartment building, was her attacker. She said she was familiar with his voice, which prosecutors said included a distinctive lisp. Her identification was not based on a police officer’s attempt to imitate Kunco’s voice, prosecutors argued.
They said the woman claimed “her assailant had been working on the building and she had invited him in for a cup of coffee and a sandwich and he talked funny,” prosecutors wrote. A mimicked lisp by a police officer was used only to confirm the speech impediment, prosecutors said.
Police said that on Dec. 16, 1990, the woman awoke at 5 a.m. to let her cat outside and returned to bed without locking her door. Five minutes later, she looked up to see a man standing beside her bed. He threatened her with a knife and dragged her to a bathroom, where he forced her to perform oral sex.
The assailant then took her to a bedroom, where for the next seven hours he repeatedly sexually assaulted her using various objects while her face was covered, prosecutors said.
Kunco has denied he was the woman’s attacker and at trial claimed he had an alibi. His retrial in the rape case has not been scheduled.
Kunco, who is back in jail, is scheduled for trial in July in Allegheny County for allegations he had improper sexual contact with a young child shortly after he was released custody on his rape sentence.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .