The perils of building a prosecution largely on the testimony of criminals was on display today at the trial of former prison officer Harry F. Nicoletti Jr.
Richard J. "Tat" Cavallero II -- whose nickname comes from his tattoos, including the anarchy symbol on his neck -- was housed on the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's F Block during parts of 2009 and 2010. That's when, according to prosecutors, a group of officers led by Mr. Nicoletti systematically singled out and abused inmates viewed as pedophiles.
Cavallero, 40, of the McKean County town of Smethport, has a criminal history that includes thefts, burglaries and drug charges. He testified at Mr. Nicoletti's preliminary hearing a year ago that, at the officer's behest, he beat up dozens of prisoners and contaminated hundreds of inmate food trays with body fluids.
Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman tried to prompt similar testimony today. Cavallero said he remembered little.
"Are you not going to recall most of the questions I ask you?" Mr. Pittman asked.
"It worked for Bill Clinton," said Cavallero.
Cavallero later said he was "threatened and coerced" into testifying against Mr. Nicoletti, though he did not detail that, other than to say he was visited by law enforcement at his workplace and subpoenaed.
"I don't like pedophiles," Cavallero said. "But I don't like district attorneys or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. ... I don't like anybody."
Later another former F Block inmate said he saw Mr. Nicoletti interfere with one prisoner's food, but backed away from earlier claims made in a written statement that he saw multiple abuses.
The morning closed with testimony from Curtis J. Hoffman, a former colleague of Mr. Nicoletti's who said the officer singled out sex offenders and announced their crimes to the block, inviting abuse. He characterized Cavallero as "one of [Nicoletti's] thugs."
Mr. Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis, faces 89 counts related to alleged abuse of prisoners. Three of those counts -- two of criminal solicitation, and one of official oppression -- list Cavallero as the victim.
The trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman is now in its second week.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord