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Lawyer: Missing exhibits solidify Latrobe man's innocence

Tribune-Review (Greensburg, PA)
BYLINE: Liz Zemba

Fayette County, PA

The attorney for a Latrobe man convicted 24 years ago of a double homicide contends that alleged "missing" trial exhibits are further evidence his client was wrongly convicted.

In addition, Washington County attorney Noah Geary on Wednesday asked a federal judge to release David J. Munchinski on his own recognizance and allow him to stay with relatives in Florida, pending an appeal in which prosecutorial misconduct is alleged.

In an Aug. 4 letter to U.S. Magistrate Lisa Pupo Lenihan, Deputy Attorney General Gregory J. Simatic indicated prosecutors can't find the exhibits after checking with Fayette's district attorney and clerk of courts. Lenihan last month requested the exhibits as she considers Munchinski's latest appeal.

Simatic indicated the trial exhibits might be in the county detective's evidence room, but the room was not immediately accessible because Detective Larry Curry has been out of state on official business. Curry could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In one of several filings in U.S. District Court yesterday, Geary alleged the missing exhibits bolster his contention that Munchinski is innocent.

"This solidifies the fact that everything in this case in which the government has had a hand in, from 1977 to the present, is highly suspicious, highly irregular, unorthodox, highly unusual, inexplicable and violative of every notion of fundamental fairness and due process of law," Geary wrote.

"David Munchinski asks this court to construe the fact that all trial exhibits from both trials in this case are 'missing' against the government as further proof of the misconduct/prosecutorial misconduct perpetrated against David Munchinski, which has caused his wrongful conviction and wrongful incarceration," he wrote.

Munchinski, 58, was convicted in 1986 in the Dec. 2, 1977, killings of James "Petey" Alford, 22, of Hempfield and Raymond Gierke, 28, of Bear Rocks in Fayette County. The two men were shot at Gierke's home.

Munchinski's first trial, with co-defendant Leon Scaglione of New Alexandria, ended in 1983 with a hung jury.

Scaglione and Munchinski were convicted of the murders in separate trials in 1986. Scaglione died in prison in 1996.

Geary wants Lenihan to throw out a Superior Court's reversal of a lower court's decision to overturn Munchinski's convictions.

The lower court, in a 2004 ruling issued by Northumberland County Judge Barry Feudale Sr., found that former Fayette County prosecutors Ralph Warman and Gerald Solomon tampered with or withheld evidence during the 1983 and 1986 trials. He also ruled that former Fayette County prosecutor John Kopas continued to withhold evidence during Munchinski's earlier appeals of his conviction.

Feudale was appointed to hear Munchinski's 2003 appeal after all the Fayette County judges recused themselves because the appeal was based on claims of prosecutorial misconduct. Among other issues, Munchinski claimed prosecutors hid at least 11 pieces of evidence that would have helped prove his innocence.

In July, Lenihan heard oral testimony on Geary's request. She has not issued a ruling but ordered prosecutors to provide her with all exhibits from both trials.

Geary submitted a brief in support of his earlier request to have Munchinski released on bond.

Geary contends Munchinski's case meets a number of criteria in which courts have found bond to be appropriate, including his contention that it is an unusual case involving exceptional circumstances.

"Simply put, this is an extraordinary case, involving shocking, indefensible prosecutorial misconduct," Geary wrote. "If there was ever a case, in any jurisdiction in America, when release on ROR bond pending a ruling on the merits of an application for writ of habeas corpus was justified, it is this case."

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