Declaring himself a father, husband and son, Harry Nicoletti called allegations of sexual abuse against inmates under his care at a Pittsburgh prison "absurd" and "ridiculous."
"Did you ever sexually assault an inmate?" asked defense attorney Steve Colafella as he concluded his direct examination of his client Wednesday.
"I don't want to answer that question," Mr. Nicoletti began. But then he continued, "It's ridiculous. It's humiliating. It's absurd.
"The answer is no."
Mr. Nicoletti spent about two hours on the stand and will continue to be cross-examined today by Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman.
The defendant is charged with 89 criminal counts, including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, stemming from alleged sexual and physical abuse of inmates under his care on F block in the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh.
Mr. Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis, was removed from his position in January 2011 and charged about eight months later.
He spent much of his early testimony Wednesday going over his work history, military service and how he became a correctional officer at age 49.
Mr. Nicoletti denied ever tampering with an inmate's food, using racial slurs, smuggling contraband into the prison or assaulting any inmates.
He also denied that, during orientation speeches to new inmates, he singled out prisoners convicted of sex offenses.
"We are far too busy to do that. We don't make it a practice," he said. "If you put somebody out there as a pedophile, it could cause trouble, fights."
Instead, Mr. Nicoletti said, he only reviewed five or six rules during the speech, including that inmates should be respectful to staff and must stand up for daily counts.
"Do you hate pedophiles?" Mr. Colafella said.
"I'm a father," the defendant answered. "I have a daughter. But I don't look at them any differently than any other inmate. I'm more concerned with violent offenders."
Mr. Nicoletti described himself as a follower of prison rules. He also testified that when he was working at the State Correctional Institution Greene, he chose not to prosecute an inmate who sucker-punched him in the jaw, causing several hairline fractures.
The inmate had just learned his mother had died.
"The man was at a breaking point," Mr. Nicoletti said. "I knew if I prosecuted, this would add seven more years on his sentence. The man was doing his time. He'd never given me a hard time."
Early in his cross-examination, Mr. Pittman caught Mr. Nicoletti in an inconsistency.
He had previously testified about a new inmate with an ankle injury receiving a misconduct for threatening Mr. Nicoletti with a crutch because he was told he would be housed on the second floor of F block.
But, according to the misconduct charge Mr. Nicoletti wrote, there was no threat, and the inmate was being asked to pack up his cell on the third floor and move to the first.
Mr. Pittman asked repeatedly whether Mr. Nicoletti was sure about the details. "I'm giving you an out here, Mr. Nicoletti," the prosecutor said.
When shown the paperwork, the defendant answered, "I am very confused at this misconduct. You have to remember, I've been out of there two years. I remember what he said to me, and I remember him grabbing the crutch. "Something's not accurate here."
Mr. Pittman also asked if the defendant believed the inmates who testified against him were in collusion.
"It's my conclusion that inmates lie," Mr. Nicoletti responded. "That's my answer."
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.