Charges dismissed after man spent 25 years in prison

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A Fayette County judge Friday dismissed the charges against a man who spent 25 years in prison for the 1977 shooting deaths of two men.

David Munchinski, who had fought his 1986 conviction from the outset, cannot be retried and is officially a free man.

"That's the best morning David Munchinski has had in about 27 years," said attorney Noah Geary following the hearing. "That finally puts an end to the criminal case against David."

The next step, the lawyer continued, is to attempt to work out a financial settlement with the state to compensate his client for the years he was imprisoned.

"If they don't want to make this right, then suit will be filed very quickly," Mr. Geary said.

The civil rights claim, which would include allegations of malicious prosecution, would list as defendants the prosecutors who originally tried Mr. Munchinski and state troopers who investigated.

Mr. Geary first took the case on in 2001, around the same time Mr. Munchinski's daughter, Raina S. Tousey, contacted the former Innocence Institute at Point Park University.

"They did a lot of work on it," Mr. Geary said of the institute. "They certainly were instrumental in the result."

Bill Moushey, the director at the institute, called Friday's result, "unbelievably gratifying."

"Even if it took a long time, it seems like justice was finally served," he said. "What really is cool is his daughter spent basically her whole life trying to exonerate her father."

Mr. Munchinski was convicted, along with Leon Scaglione, of killing Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke in Bear Rocks, Fayette County, in 1977, over drugs.

Mr. Munchinski's first trial ended with a hung jury in 1983. He was convicted in 1986. Throughout the appellate process, Mr. Geary and the institute uncovered evidence of alleged prosecutorial misconduct, including the withholding of information from the defense and repeatedly changing stories of the key witness in the case, who has since died.

In September, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion finding that Mr. Munchinski had "demonstrated his actual innocence by clear and convincing evidence," and that violations of evidentiary rules by Fayette County prosecutors at the time were "staggering."

The court upheld an earlier ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan in which she reversed Mr. Munchinski's conviction and gave the state attorney general's office until January to retry Mr. Munchinski.

After brief argument Friday, Fayette County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Vernon dismissed the charges against Mr. Munchinski with prejudice.

In the meantime, Mr. Munchinski continues to live in Florida with his daughter, Mr. Geary said.

"He's doing well."

state - neigh_washington

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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