Former SCI Pittsburgh officer to testify at prison abuse trial
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A former corrections officer is scheduled to testify against an ex-colleague today at the first criminal trial stemming from inmate allegations of abuse at a Pittsburgh prison.
Curtis Hoffman, who served in the Department of Corrections from 1998 until last year, appeared briefly Wednesday at the trial of Tory Kelly. The 19 criminal counts against Mr. Kelly include five stemming from Mr. Hoffman's report of an August 2011 encounter between them.
Mr. Hoffman's testimony was postponed to today after Mr. Kelly's attorneys said they hadn't received records reflecting severance paid to the witness by the department. Attorney David Cercone said he'd heard of a "lump sum payout" by the department that he might use to challenge Mr. Hoffman's credibility.
Mr. Hoffman worked at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh's century-old F Block in which, inmates have said, sex offenders were viciously hazed. Some have alleged that they were sexually assaulted by former Corrections Officer Harry F. Nicoletti, who faces a January trial on 89 criminal counts.
Mr. Hoffman was interviewed by investigators on the day in 2011 when Mr. Nicoletti was walked out of the prison and suspended.
Mr. Hoffman later accused Mr. Kelly of coming to his house, challenging him to a fight and saying he had a ".50-caliber bullet with ... Hoffman's name on it," according to an investigator's affidavit.
That generated charges against Mr. Kelly of terroristic threats, stalking, simple assault and retaliation against a witness.
The F Block cases pit convicted sex criminals against corrections officers, with no physical evidence, so the former guard's testimony could be pivotal.
On Wednesday, inmate William Zuschlag, 42, of Meadville, testified that Mr. Kelly beat him every day, often twice a day, during the week he was at F Block in late 2010. Zuschlag was there for sex crimes with a minor.
Zuschlag at one point said that Mr. Kelly sometimes beat him in the mornings, and once did so in jeans and a T-shirt. His statements to investigators, though, contained inconsistencies, and one written last week omitted any mention of an out-of-uniform beating or morning abuse.
The timing is important, because Mr. Kelly only worked the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift.
"Sir, did you change your story?" asked Mr. Cercone.
"Yes," said Zuschlag.
Earlier, Randy Jones, 24, of Verona, imprisoned for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, described encounters with Mr. Kelly.
Mr. Kelly, Jones said, "comes in and puts his black gloves on his hands. ... He says, 'So I don't leave fingerprints and bruises.' "
Mr. Kelly claimed to have a 52-0 record in fights on F Block, Jones said, and then hit him in the stomach. "He hits me again with a closed fist in the center of my chest, which knocks the wind out of me. ... He punches me with a closed fist in my forehead."
Mr. Kelly, Mr. Jones testified, then said that if the inmate told a higher ranking officer about it, "I'll make your life a living nightmare you won't wake up from."
Defense attorney Veronica Brestensky had Jones confirm that he recently filed a lawsuit related to his abuse allegations.
"All I know is I'm seeking monetary-based ... compensation," Jones said.
He later added that he was told that "by me giving my testimony, whether it was for or against or whatever, it would look good for parole, because I was assisting with a high-profile case." He said he can't be paroled until 2018.
First Published December 20, 2012 12:00 am