A judge today found former State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh officer Tory Kelly guilty on four criminal counts related to inmate abuse, and not guilty on 10, following a week-long non-jury trial.
The four counts for which Mr. Kelly now faces sentencing March 20 are simple assault, official oppression, terroristic threats and intimidation of a witness. The intimidation charge is a felony, the others misdemeanors.
All relate to interactions two years ago with a single inmate, Randy Jones, who was housed in the prison's F Block for a few days. F Block is the scene for what investigators said was systematic abuse of inmates viewed as pedophiles, or the genesis for what defense attorneys suggest is a massive conspiracy to smear guards.
Jones, 24, of Verona, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, testified Tuesday that Mr. Kelly entered his cell and put on black gloves. He then boasted of his fighting prowess, struck Jones three times, and threatened to make his life "a living nightmare you won't wake up from," the prisoner testified.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman seemed especially convinced by Jones' testimony that he took the unusual step of requesting a transfer from a single cell on F Block to restricted housing, commonly known as "the hole."
"He requested that he be put in restricted housing," told Mr. Kelly. "Why? He's already in a single cell. The jail guards have access to that single cell."
Jones testified that Mr. Kelly then showed up to threaten him in restricted housing. Unlike the testimony of other accusers, who said they were beaten at times when Mr. Kelly was almost certainly not in the prison, Jones' story matched the guard's work schedule.
All of the accusers were convicted of sex crimes with minors. All had credibility problems, from shifting stories, to motives including the hopes of big civil lawsuit recoveries and potential parole consideration. Judge Cashman didn't find that their accounts proved Mr. Kelly's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The types of inconsistencies and outright falsehoods that have been brought into this courtroom are enough to create reasonable doubt," said David Cercone, who is Mr. Kelly's attorney. He characterized the accusers as "the kind of person who would manipulate a child into having sexual contact with them," and were now trying to manipulate a system in an effort to advance lawsuits and get paroled.
"I would say the evidence is overwhelming," countered Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman, noting that four victims unequivocally identified Mr. Kelly as their assailant and offered similar accounts.
Why would Jones request protective custody? The only reason, said Mr. Pittman, is "because he's afraid of the guards."
Mr. Kelly, 41, of Aliquippa, was obviously stunned by the verdict. He left the courtroom, slumped down on a bench for several minutes, and left without comment, walking alone.
He also faces a likely March trial on five counts stemming from an August 2011 encounter with another former officer, Curtis Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman has told investigators that Mr. Kelly tried to egg him into a fight, in an alleged effort to intimidate him out of talking with investigators.
Mr. Hoffman testified Thursday that Mr. Kelly bragged about beating up inmates. But Mr. Hoffman said he didn't see any of the encounters alleged by Mr. Kelly's four accusers.
"I expected a bombshell from Mr. Hoffman," Judge Cashman said. "What did I get? I got that you're a braggart."
The central figure in the F Block cases, former corrections officer Harry F. Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis, faces trial starting Jan. 8 on 89 counts spurred by inmate accusations. He faces the most serious accusations of any of the fired guards, including charges that he sexually abused inmates.
Two other former officers face trial on lesser charges.
Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord