Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Court rejects appeal by convicted killer

October 27, 2007

By Richard Gazarik, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

A federal appellate court Friday rejected the latest appeal of a twice-convicted killer who claims he was the victim of misconduct by two Fayette County prosecutors who now are judges.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed two U.S. District Court decisions in 2006 and 2007 that prevented the release of David Munchinski, 55, formerly of Latrobe, who claimed he was convicted because former prosecutors Gerald Solomon and Ralph Warman tampered with evidence that could have exonerated him of the 1977 killings.

Solomon, who was district attorney at the time, and Warman, his assistant, are up for retention next month for 10-year terms on the county Common Pleas Court.

Munchinski had sued Solomon, Warman, former assistant District Attorney John Kopas III and former county detectives Humphrey Lukachik, George Fayock and Robert Mangiacarne about the way the evidence was handled during the investigation that led to Munchinski's 1982 arrest.

Munchinski, 55, was convicted of the rape and murders of James "Petey" Alford of Hempfield and Raymond Gierke, 28, in Gierke's Bear Rocks chalet in 1977. Munchinski was convicted again in 1986.

His attorney, Noah Geary of Washington, could not be reached for comment.

In 2004, visiting Northumberland Judge Barry Feudale overturned Munchinski's convictions, vacated his life sentences and ordered him released, ruling that Warman and Solomon had tampered with the statement of a key prosecution witness and had committed prosecutorial misconduct. They also failed to produce a tape recording of the statement given to police by witness Richard Bowen, which should have been turned over to Munchinski's defense attorneys.

Before Munchinski could be freed, the state Attorney General's Office appealed and the state Superior Court voided Feudale's ruling and blocked Munchinski's release. The court ruled that Munchinski's arguments should have been raised during his appeals in 1983, 1986 and 1992. The state Supreme Court upheld the Superior Court decision. In his ruling, Feudale said there were 12 pieces of evidence that should have been turned over to Munchinski's defense attorneys prior to the trial but were not received until 2001.

Munchinski filed a personal injury lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh in 2005 but a federal judge ruled in August 2006 that Munchinski was barred by a two-year time limit from pursuing his claims. Munchinski then appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in September.

The Bear Rocks murders went unsolved for five years before Munchinski and the late Leon Scaglione were arrested in what prosecutors said was a drug rip-off. Bowen, who committed suicide, claimed to have driven the killers to Bear Rocks the night of the slayings but other evidence indicated Bowen was in Oklahoma that night.

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