Daughter Fights for New Trial for Dad
August 17, 2002

by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Every night before she falls asleep, Raina Munchinski imagines hearing her father's cell door slam shut as he serves a life sentence for a murder she believes he did not commit.

She says new evidence uncovered since his 1986 conviction raises questions about whether David Munchinski killed and sodomized two men in a drug robbery 25 years ago.

``I can't imagine being in jail for something, let alone being in jail for something you didn't do,'' Raina Munchinski, 27, said from her home near Tampa, Fla.

Her quest for a new trial for her father is raising questions in Fayette County, a largely rural area near Pittsburgh. Three of the county's six judges - two of them former prosecutors who convicted Munchinski - could be forced to testify at an Oct. 17 hearing to determine if Munchinski deserves a new trial.

If called, they could be asked why evidence potentially helpful to Munchinski wasn't given to his defense attorneys before his trials in 1983 and 1986 or at a 1992 appeal hearing.

Raina Munchinski and her attorney, Noah Geary, said eight new pieces of evidence should win Munchinski a new trial in the murders of James Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke.

They say the evidence includes a report showing state police had been told that Richard Bowen, who testified against Munchinski, may have been in Oklahoma at the time of the murders. There is also evidence, they said, that semen found at the scene wasn't Munchinski's.

Geary and Raina Munchinski also said there is medical evidence that the victims may have engaged in sexual activity at least a day before the murders, contradicting Bowen's testimony that the men were sodomized and murdered within minutes.

Geary said Munchinski's defense probably would have been able to present the evidence at trial if it had been available.

``Sure, there are cases where a prosecutor mistakenly doesn't get a police report and then he doesn't turn it over and it's in good faith. But eight pieces of evidence?'' Geary said.

Fayette County Judge Gerald Solomon, who was district attorney when Munchinski was convicted and could be called at the hearing, declined comment. Judge Ralph Warman, Solomon's first assistant at the time, didn't return calls for comment.

At the time of the murders, police considered Munchinski, the son of a homicide detective in neighboring Westmoreland County, to be a hotheaded tough guy with connections to the drug trade.

He wasn't connected to the shootings of Alford and Gierke until Bowen told police in 1982 that he was asked to drive Munchinski and another man, Leon Scaglione, to the victims' cabin.

Munchinski has always maintained his innocence. He and Scaglione were tried together in 1983, but the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Scaglione later pleaded guilty after giving authorities varying accounts of the crime and naming others as conspirators. He never implicated Munchinski.

Scaglione refused to testify at Munchinski's second trial, when Munchinski was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Geary said that despite a county judge's order in 1992 that prosecutors turn over evidence, much of it was obtained only in the past two years through subpoenas filed as part of a federal appeal by Munchinski's former attorney.

At a 1992 hearing before Judge William Franks, Warman acknowledged deleting a paragraph in a police report that referred to a statement Bowen had given to police before he implicated Munchinski.

Franks ruled nothing improper was done because there was no other known evidence that Bowen had given an earlier statement.

But Geary says state police records uncovered since show that Bowen's account gradually changed from that of a driver who told police he was outside when the killings occurred to that of an eyewitness.

Bowen hanged himself in an Oklahoma jail cell four years ago, authorities said.

Franks said he can't remember details of the 1992 hearing, and called Munchinski's upcoming hearing ``an unusual, abnormal situation.'' He assigned a judge from Northumberland County to the Oct. 17 hearing.

The current district attorney, Nancy Vernon, recently removed her office from the case because an assistant, John Kopas, represented the county at the 1992 hearing. Kopas declined comment.

The state Attorney General's Office has been assigned to represent Fayette County at the hearing, but officials refused to discuss the case.

``My father told me one time, 'I've seen more investigation on an episode of 'Columbo' that I did in this entire case,''' Raina Munchinski said. ``They convicted him on the word of Richard Bowen, nothing else.''


 
Innocent Imprisoned
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct