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Prosecutors weigh retrial of 'Bear Rocks Murders' defendant

By Liz Zemba
August 9, 2011 

Prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will retry a Latrobe man who has served 25 years in prison in a double homicide.

A federal judge on Friday granted David Munchinski, 59, a new trial in the shooting deaths of Raymond Gierke, 28, and James "Petey" Alford, 22, during a drug deal gone wrong at Gierke's Bear Rocks chalet on Dec. 2, 1977.

Prosecutors have up to 120 days to retry the case, but a decision on whether to proceed has not been made.

"We are still considering our options," said Deputy Attorney General Gregory J. Simatic of the state attorney general's Pittsburgh office.

Munchinski and the late Leon Scaglione of New Alexandria were convicted in 1986 in the double homicide. A 1983 trial ended in a mistrial.

On Friday, Chief Magistrate Lisa Pupo Lenihan said Munchinski is entitled to a new trial in the case, known as the Bear Rocks Murders, because prosecutors withheld evidence that would have cast doubts on the man's guilt.

Jack Heneks, district attorney for Fayette County, said he does not expect the case to be referred back to his office for possible prosecution. He said the state Attorney General's Office was brought in to handle appeals in the case because of conflicts of interest that existed before he took over as district attorney from Nancy Vernon, who is now a county judge.

"I would think that those reasons are still in place, for Nancy not handling it," Heneks said, adding he likely has his own conflicts because he was in the public defender's office at the time Munchinski was tried.

Simatic said he will read Lenihan's decision and consult with prosecutors in Harrisburg before deciding whether to proceed to trial.

Noah Geary, a Washington County attorney who represents Munchinski, said prosecutors could decide to appeal, as well, but he feels that Lenihan's order should put an end to the case.

"My hope is they will acknowledge the fact the man was wrongfully convicted and not file an appeal," Geary said. "And due to the fact there was no evidence to support bringing him to trial, that they would acknowledge that and let him be released. He's done 25 years."

As for a retrial, Geary said "there is no evidence" to support one.

More than three decades later, several key players in the case have died. Scaglione died in prison in 1996. A star witness, Richard Bowen, who testified that he drove Munchinski and Scaglione to the murder site, only to later recant in an interview with FBI agents, is also dead.

Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice