Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Courts release, then return convicted murderer to prison

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

By Bill Moushey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just hours after the Common Pleas Court judge who last year reversed a former Latrobe man's 1986 double-murder conviction agreed to release him from prison while prosecutors appeal, another court ordered him to remain in prison until the case runs its course.

But the attorney for David J. Munchinski, 52, said last night he will petition Pennsylvania Superior Court today for the immediate release of his client, who has served almost 20 years on convictions the judge last fall ruled were due to "ongoing prosecutorial misconduct."

"He's a very patient man," said attorney Noah Geary of Washington, Pa., who has fought for the past 31/2 years to overturn Munchinski's convictions for the 1977 execution-style slayings of James Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke in the Laurel Highlands resort community of Bear Rocks.

"He's been on the wrong side of court decisions many times ... a few more days are not going to hurt," Geary said.

The machinations surrounding his release began early yesterday, when visiting Senior Judge Barry Feudale of Northumberland County issued a four-page order releasing Munchinski from custody while the Superior Court considers an appeal of Feudale's October reversal of the double-murder conviction.

Munchinski told Feudale last week that if released he would move to Florida to live with his daughter to await a new trial ruling or dismissal of charges.

In his order yesterday releasing Munchinski on his own recognizance, Feudale reiterated claims made last year in his 114-page reversal order that three different Fayette County prosecutors -- two of whom are now judges -- hid and altered evidence and committed other ethical indiscretions that "violated all principles of justice and fairness."

Feudale said he ordered the release before appeals are settled because a retrial will be extremely difficult as most of the witnesses are either dead or discredited, or both.

He also said Munchinski appeared at every court appearance when he was released on bond between his initial trial, which ended in a hung jury in 1983, and his second trial that culminated with his conviction in 1986

The Pennsylvania attorney general's office, which took over the case when Fayette prosecutors removed themselves from it, not only have appealed Feudale's reversal but also have filed a flurry of recent actions claiming Munchinski should not be granted bail because he faces life in prison.

Just hours after the release order was filed in Fayette County, the attorney general's office asked Superior Court to keep Munchinski in prison until it reviews the bond order and rules on the appeal. Superior Court granted the stay about 4 p.m. yesterday.

Last night, Geary said he will respond to the stay order today with hopes of securing Munchinski's release soon. A spokesman from the attorney general's office said it will continue to oppose Munchinski's release until all appeals are exhausted.

Bill Moushey can be reached at bmoushey@pointpark.edu or 412-392-3416.

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