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Wrongful conviction suit could be costly for Fayette County taxpayers

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, 11:03 p.m.
David Munchinski, 59, talks to the media after being released from SCI-Pittsburgh on Friday, September 30, 2011 after serving 25 years in prison. (Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review)
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
David Munchinski, 59, talks to the media after being released from SCI-Pittsburgh on Friday, September 30, 2011 after serving 25 years in prison. (Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review)

The Fayette commissioners got an update from an attorney Tuesday on a federal civil rights lawsuit against two former county prosecutors and learned how much the case could cost the county, according to Commissioner Vince Zapotosky.

The update was provided during a 20-minute executive session called during an agenda meeting.

David Munchinski, formerly of Latrobe, is suing former prosecutors Ralph Warman and Gerald Solomon, alleging that they withheld key evidence in a double-homicide case against Munchinski, whose 1986 conviction for killing two men in Bear Rocks was overturned by a federal judge.

Munchinski was freed in 2011. Charges against him were dismissed two years later when prosecutors failed to retry the case.

Munchinski claims Solomon and Warman — who are now judges — destroyed a tape in which a key witness said he had no knowledge of the crime. That witness testified that he watched the Dec. 2, 1977, slayings of James “Petey” Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, at Gierke's home. But during Munchinski's appeal, evidence turned up that the witness was out of state at the time of the shootings.

Zapotosky said attorney Thomas Pellis, who represents Warman and Solomon, gave the commissioners an estimate for legal fees to consider working into the county's budget. He provided commissioners with possible outcomes of the case and what their legal position is, Zapotosky said.

“This case is going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money,” Zapotosky said.

Munchinski is seeking unspecified damages from the defendants named in the lawsuit for allegedly denying his right to a fair trial, post-conviction and habeas corpus relief.

Warman and Solomon, now senior judges in Fayette County, and a late state police trooper, George Fayock, are defendants in the lawsuit.

Renatta Signorini is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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