Sat Aug 17, 2002 | Associated Press

Daughter Attempts New Trial for Dad

By JOE MANDAK, Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Every night before she falls asleep, Raina Munchinski imagines hearing her father's cell door slam shut as he serves a life sentence for a murder she believes he did not commit.

She says new evidence uncovered since his 1986 conviction raises questions about whether David Munchinski killed and sodomized two men in a drug robbery 25 years ago.

"I can't imagine being in jail for something, let alone being in jail for something you didn't do," Raina Munchinski, 27, said from her home near Tampa, Fla.

Her quest for a new trial for her father is raising questions in Fayette County, a largely rural area near Pittsburgh. Three of the county's six judges - two of them former prosecutors who convicted Munchinski - could be forced to testify at an Oct. 17 hearing to determine if Munchinski deserves a new trial.

If called, they could be asked why evidence potentially helpful to Munchinski wasn't given to his defense attorneys before his trials in 1983 and 1986 or at a 1992 appeal hearing.

Raina Munchinski and her attorney, Noah Geary, said eight new pieces of evidence should win Munchinski a new trial in the murders of James Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke.

They say the evidence includes a report showing state police had been told that Richard Bowen, who testified against Munchinski, may have been in Oklahoma at the time of the murders. There is also evidence, they said, that semen found at the scene wasn't Munchinski's.

Geary and Raina Munchinski also said there is medical evidence that the victims may have engaged in sexual activity at least a day before the murders, contradicting Bowen's testimony that the men were sodomized and murdered within minutes.

Geary said Munchinski's defense probably would have been able to present the evidence at trial if it had been available.

"Sure, there are cases where a prosecutor mistakenly doesn't get a police report and then he doesn't turn it over and it's in good faith. But eight pieces of evidence?" Geary said.

Fayette County Judge Gerald Solomon, who was district attorney when Munchinski was convicted and could be called at the hearing, declined comment. Judge Ralph Warman, Solomon's first assistant at the time, didn't return calls for comment.

At the time of the murders, police considered Munchinski, the son of a homicide detective in neighboring Westmoreland County, to be a hotheaded tough guy with connections to the drug trade.

He wasn't connected to the shootings of Alford and Gierke until Bowen told police in 1982 that he was asked to drive Munchinski and another man, Leon Scaglione, to the victims' cabin.

Munchinski has always maintained his innocence. He and Scaglione were tried together in 1983, but the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Scaglione later pleaded guilty after giving authorities varying accounts of the crime and naming others as conspirators. He never implicated Munchinski.

Scaglione refused to testify at Munchinski's second trial, when Munchinski was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Geary said that despite a county judge's order in 1992 that prosecutors turn over evidence, much of it was obtained only in the past two years through subpoenas filed as part of a federal appeal by Munchinski's former attorney.

At a 1992 hearing before Judge William Franks, Warman acknowledged deleting a paragraph in a police report that referred to a statement Bowen had given to police before he implicated Munchinski.

Franks ruled nothing improper was done because there was no other known evidence that Bowen had given an earlier statement.

But Geary says state police records uncovered since show that Bowen's account gradually changed from that of a driver who told police he was outside when the killings occurred to that of an eyewitness.

Bowen hanged himself in an Oklahoma jail cell four years ago, authorities said.

Franks said he can't remember details of the 1992 hearing, and called Munchinski's upcoming hearing "an unusual, abnormal situation." He assigned a judge from Northumberland County to the Oct. 17 hearing.

The current district attorney, Nancy Vernon, recently removed her office from the case because an assistant, John Kopas, represented the county at the 1992 hearing. Kopas declined comment.

The state Attorney General's Office has been assigned to represent Fayette County at the hearing, but officials refused to discuss the case.

"My father told me one time, 'I've seen more investigation on an episode of 'Columbo' that I did in this entire case,'" Raina Munchinski said. "They convicted him on the word of Richard Bowen, nothing else." ======================================================

Sunday, June 23, 2002 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Question of Innocence: Daughter's questions could help free dad; David Munchinski has been jailed 15 1/2 years for killings he says he didn't do

By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

First of two articles

Raina Munchinski's only clear memories of her father have come from her infrequent visits to the penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence for the 1977 murders of two drug dealers in Fayette County. -------------------- photo: Raina Munchinski with a picture of her father, David, taken shortly before he started serving his life sentence. -------------------- Over the 15 1/2 years he has served at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, David Munchinski often told his daughter that the people who had testified against him at his two murder trials lied and that prosecutors had withheld crucial information.

As they sat across from each other, the girl couldn't summon the courage to ask her dad the question that plagued her -- Did he do it?

Finally, seven years ago, she overcame her fear and asked her father what had really happened on that wintry night in Bear Rocks when James P. Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, were executed.

David Munchinski looked her squarely in the eyes: "You know, Raina, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. I did a lot of dumb things. But I did not commit these crimes."

From that moment, Raina committed herself to finding the evidence that would free her father. Now, at the age of 26, a year older than her father was at the time of the killings, her years of effort may be close to bearing fruit.

Of course, most lifers claim innocence, and their relatives often believe them because they don't want to abandon hope. But in this case, Raina has collected enough evidence to cast serious doubts on her father's conviction:

[dot.gif] She found that the star witness against her father told officers he lied.

[dot.gif] She found evidence that the witness might not have been in Pennsylvania on the day of the killings.

[dot.gif] And, she found previously unreleased documents suggesting other suspects had admitted killing the two men.

Largely as a result of her work, a Fayette County judge reopened Munchinski's case in the spring of last year. The judge removed himself because two of his fellow judges had served as Munchinski's prosecutors. Last week, Senior Judge Barry Feudale of Northumberland County, who was appointed to the case by the state Supreme Court, began to sort through the issues being raised by Munchinski's new attorney, Noah Geary, who is being paid in installments by Raina Munchinski.

She and Geary hope to win a dismissal of the charges against David Munchinski, or at least a new trial.

"I am not going to rest until my father is out," she said.

--How it started

The first call came early Dec. 2, 1977. It was apparently made from the murder scene in the Laurel Highlands, near the boundaries of Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties.

A man told a Bell telephone operator that he had been shot at 837 Alpine Road in a section of Bullskin Township known as Bear Rocks. Police believe the call came from Gierke. About 2:30 a.m., just after the operator referred the call to Mount Pleasant police, another call came in. Bonnie Blackson, whose house was near one owned by Gierke's family, told a dispatcher "a man was on her porch, leaning against [the] double doors and having a hard time breathing."

Within 20 minutes, two state police troopers arrived at the remote scene to find Alford lying dead at the Blacksons' rear door. Troopers traced Alford's movements down a tree-strewn, rocky ravine and up a short hill to a lighted cabin 114 yards away.

No one answered the door, so they went inside. Behind an overturned stuffed chair, they found the lifeless body of Gierke, his face covered in blood. The troopers found drug paraphernalia and small bags of cocaine at the cabin, leading them to believe the homicides were probably drug-related. They also found tire skid marks on Alpine Road and blood trails outside the Gierke house.

Autopsies and other forensic evidence would eventually show that the men died from gunshot blasts from two weapons, one a .357-caliber Magnum revolver, the other a .25-caliber semiautomatic. Alford was shot in the back at close range. Gierke suffered lethal gunshot wounds of his head and chest and also was shot in the hand.

Within 24 hours of the killings, investigators learned that Gierke, a waiter in a Westmoreland County restaurant, had been a major drug dealer. Alford also had bought and sold drugs, but was more of a minor player in what was then a fast-growing drug culture in the Laurel Highlands.

Investigators soon learned Gierke owed money for drugs, and that those he owed included members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, a notoriously violent sect of outlaw bikers. Witnesses told police he not only had been threatened with death over the debt, but he also believed that someone was stalking him.

One way he had hoped to start paying off what he owed, his friends told police, was by selling a quarter pound of cocaine on the day he died.

There also was another unusual finding in the pathology reports.

Both the victims had engaged in anal sex in the 24 hours before their deaths. It might have been a sign they had sexual relations with each other, but that's not how the evidence was presented at trial several years later, when it would become a key part of the testimony that convicted Munchinski of murdering Gierke and Alford.

--A criminal life

At the time of the killings, David Munchinski was on a path to nothing good.

The son of a Latrobe police officer, Munchinski had built a reputation as a tough-guy drug dealer in Westmoreland County. He sold drugs, used drugs and stole drugs. He was involved in numerous skirmishes, many with folks who were in the drug culture with him.

His combativeness sometimes seemed foolhardy. During one of his forays into the drug world, Munchinski so enraged members of the Pagans for muscling in on their business that they sprayed bullets into his rural trailer home. One slug hit within inches of his baby son's head.

Munchinski's reaction: He went unarmed to one of the Pagans' hangouts and challenged them to fight. Several days later, when he was jailed on drug-related assault charges, Munchinski's trailer was burned to the ground.

One of the outgrowths of Munchinski's life of crime was his partnership with a burly, violent man named Leon Scaglione.

Scaglione, then 29, fancied himself a mob-style enforcer, like the frightening Luca Brasi, the cold-blooded hit man in "The Godfather." Munchinski said he was friendly with Scaglione, who also was a drug dealer and abuser, and often used him as a backup when he thought a transaction might lead to trouble.

Even though Scaglione and Munchinski would be charged together in the Bear Rocks killings, Munchinski said he quit associating with Scaglione regularly almost a year before the day of the shootings because he knew Scaglione was mentally ill and was going through long periods where he lost contact with reality.

Scaglione, who is now dead, eventually confessed to the killings, but Munchinski doesn't believe he was involved. Scaglione told police that his partner in the shootings was another man, but because Scaglione refused to testify during Munchinski's final trial, the jury never heard that information. ----------------------- The Innocence Institute of Western Pennsylvania is a new investigative reporting organization that probes allegations of wrongful convictions.

Started in 2001, it is being developed in partnership with the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Point Park College and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Post-Gazette staff writer Bill Moushey, the author of this series, is director of the institute and an assistant professor at Point Park.

The institute's goals are to provide a unique real-world learning environment for aspiring journalists, who learn investigative reporting skills so they can analyze claims by convicts or suspects and can examine allegations of misconduct by prosecutors.

Over the past two years, graduate and undergraduate journalism students have read thousands of pages of court records, interviewed witnesses, visited crime scenes and written extensively about the Bear Rocks murder case in preparation for these reports.

The students involved were Point Park graduate students Mark Bursic, Jaime McLeod, Craig Campbell, Carmela Greco and Chuck Brittain; Point Park undergraduate students Amanda Gillooly, Misty Chybrzynski, Patrick Fulton, Mark Ionadi and Jasmine Gehris; and University of Pittsburgh undergraduate students Matthew Schliesman and Erin Lindeman, who enrolled in the class through a cross-registration program offered through the Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education.

Moushey can be reached by e-mail at . Mail can be sent to the program in care of: The Innocence Institute of Western Pennsylvania, Point Park College, Room 510, 201 Wood St., Pittsburgh 15222-984. ----------------------- --Munchinski's link

Munchinski's name came up in the case Dec. 6, 1977, four days after the killings, when police interviewed Lori Lexa, Alford's girlfriend of five years. She said Alford had told her Munchinski was his drug supplier and that they were scheduled to meet the night of the killings.

Eventually, Lexa would testify against Munchinski in his trials.

Whether she would stick by that testimony today is another matter.

While she would not discuss the case for this story, her husband, Daniel Scanlon, told a reporter during a visit to their home, "You know, she doesn't believe [Munchinski] did it, either."

Munchinski himself not only denied doing business with Alford or Gierke, but also said he warned them of possible trouble at the cabin.

He said he met them once, less than a week before they died. Munchinski said he knew where they lived, and he told them that he and another man had been asked to help rob two drug dealers in Bear Rocks.

Munchinski said Gierke and Alford thanked him and said, "Forewarned is forearmed."

On the day of the crimes, Munchinski said, he was at home caring for a dog that had been shot in one of his drug disputes and which he had just brought home from the veterinarian. The only adult witness to that story would have been Munchinski's ex-wife, Vickie, who left him shortly afterward and has since disappeared. The veterinarian could not be located.

David Munchinski is far from the only killing suspect whom Lexa told police about.

There also was Edgar Wiltrout. State police reports suggest he owed Gierke money for cocaine, but was refusing to pay, causing Gierke to welsh on his own debts.

Immediately after the killings, Wiltrout, now 49, a longtime criminal who is serving a 16- to 60-month sentence in state prison as a repeat drunken driving offender, made menacing remarks to Lexa and Deborah Wiltrout Dahlmann, his estranged wife.

"Wiltrout wants to know everyone she talks to and what she tells them," says a Jan. 4, 1978, police interview with Lexa.

Lexa told police she knew Wiltrout usually carried two guns, one in a shoulder holster and another in his boot.

Even more damaging were statements made by Dahlmann about a year later. She called Greensburg police on Feb. 14, 1979, and told them a drunken man had called her after he apparently got stuck in snow near her home. He wanted to talk with her estranged husband, Edgar Wiltrout.

"She told him Ed was in jail, and he stated that is a good place for him and that is what he deserved because he killed Pete Alford," the police report reads. She said she asked him how he knew that, and he said, "Because I was there."

According to Dahlmann's account, when Wiltrout and two others arrived at the remote cottage, Alford and Gierke were in bed. Wiltrout, according to the report, had a .357-caliber Magnum handgun and a .25-caliber semiautomatic, which match the calibers of the guns used in the killings. "Ed shot both of them," the police account of Dahlmann's statement reads.

That report would never be introduced at Munchinski's later trials, because a judge decided it was extraneous to the case.

--A defiant 'Prove it'

When troopers attempted to interview Wiltrout and told him they thought he had something to do with the shootings, he told them to "prove it" and ordered them off his property. He was never arrested in the killings, and he has not responded to requests for interviews.

In another police report that would not turn up for 20 years and was unavailable for either of Munchinski's trials, a woman reported a conversation she had had with her boyfriend at the time of the killings, Michael Urdzik. She was then 15 and already addicted to drugs.

During a drive in the country, she said, Urdzik, who was twice her age, confessed to her: "He told me he was up at Bear Rocks with Ed Wiltrout one night and [Wiltrout] shot the two boys over a drug deal," the police report reads.

Urdzik moved to California within a week of the killings. A man told police he had sold Urdzik a .25-caliber weapon about a month before the slayings.

During a telephone interview last year, Urdzik, who initially pretended he was his brother, refused to answer questions about the police reports. Urdzik has never been interviewed by police.

Another man whose name came up repeatedly was Homer Stewart, a drug dealing acquaintance of Munchinski's who was dating Dahlmann, the estranged wife of Wiltrout, at the time of the killings.

It was Stewart who had asked Munchinski to go with him to rob Gierke and Alford. One police report suggests Gierke owed Stewart $22,000 for drugs when Gierke was killed.

Stewart, who has since died of liver failure, told police he wasn't involved in the killings. But a few years later, during Scaglione's second trial, Scaglione testified that Stewart was the man who had helped him commit the killings.

By the time the early stages of the probe were complete, there were almost a dozen potential suspects in the killings, including Munchinski and Scaglione. Aside from some sparse forensic evidence, though, there were few other solid clues among the files and transcripts, which would grow to more than 12,000 pages by the time Munchinski and Scaglione were sent away for life.

--A reputed kidnapping

Even though Lexa and Dahlmann had mentioned other suspects to police, they also told a story that led to the arrest of Munchinski and Scaglione long before they were charged in the killings. That would come back to haunt them at their trials.

The women said that on Jan. 28, 1978, less than two months after the killings, Munchinski and Scaglione abducted them from the Five Points Bar near Greensburg. During that episode, the two women said, Scaglione admitted the killings and forced them to go to his apartment, where he and Munchinski tossed knives into a wall near them as they told the women details of the killings.

Munchinski denies abducting Dahlmann or Lexa. He said he spent time with them at the Five Points Bar to find out as much as he could about the case. He also met once alone with Lexa, two days after he purportedly had abducted her.

Eventually, the charges related to the supposed abduction were dropped.

But years later, at Scaglione's and Munchinski's trials, the women would testify that the men had accosted them in the bar itself and then confessed the killings. The women dropped any mention of an abduction.

After the initial flurry of police interviews, the Bear Rocks investigation was dormant for 3 1/2 years. Munchinski and Scaglione were just two on a long list of possible suspects.

That changed on June 24, 1981.

That's when Richard Bowen, then 29, a man whose name had not appeared in a single police report up to that point, summoned state police to the Westmoreland County Detention Center.

Bowen, a heavy alcohol and drug abuser, told police that Scaglione had made a jailhouse confession to him in the Bear Rocks slayings. They didn't seem impressed. It merited only one paragraph in their report.

But 15 months later, Bowen called police again, seeking help on some charges he faced. By the time they were done talking with him, Bowen's story had grown to the point that he said he was with Munchinski and Scaglione on the night of the killings.

Munchinski's nemesis had appeared.

And from that point on, Raina Munchinski believes, her father began to be framed for the murders. ======================================================

Monday, June 24, 2002 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Question of Innocence: Star witness's story full of inconsistencies

By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Second of two articles

As David Munchinski sat in a hearing on two murder charges that would eventually condemn him to a life behind bars, he noticed a disheveled man, apparently waiting to testify.

He leaned over to his co-defendant, Leon Scaglione, and said: "Hey Leo, who is this guy here?" That, Munchinski said, was "the first time I ever saw Rick Bowen."

Richard Bowen, a drunk and petty criminal, would testify that he watched as Munchinski and Scaglione sodomized and killed James Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke during a drug robbery in December 1977 in Bear Rocks, a section of Bullskin Township in Fayette County.

Bowen said he then drove the getaway car.

While there were other witnesses against Munchinski and Scaglione, Bowen was the only one who said he was present at the murder scene, and that made him crucial in Munchinski's being convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Yet today, 15 1/2 years into his sentence, Munchinski insists: "I never associated with [Bowen] ... [and] never knew who he was."

Bowen told his story in both of Munchinski's murder trials. Then, several years later, he twice recanted his court statements and said state police had coached him on his testimony. But then he reversed himself again, saying he had told the truth the first time.

No one will ever be able to tell which story was the truth, because four years ago, Bowen hanged himself in an Oklahoma jail.

Still, he did leave one legacy of value to Munchinski, who is jailed at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh.

Bowen's statements were so riddled with inconsistencies that they helped persuade a Fayette County judge to finally reopen Munchinski's murder case. The initial hearings took place last week before Senior Judge Barry Feudale of Northumberland County, and a full hearing on the issues is expected to begin in October.

At the time of the Bear Rocks murders, nothing seemed to be going right in Bowen's life. He was a drug and alcohol abuser, a wanderer who moved in and out of houses, relationships, jail and jobs.

Many of his crimes were petty -- legally, and in their particulars. He was once charged with stealing a can of noodles. Another time, he was implicated in the theft of donation envelopes from a Catholic rectory.

Bowen's name did not show up in any of the hundreds of police reports filed in the first 3 1/2 years after the killings.

He emerged as a figure in the case only after he had summoned troopers to the State Correctional Institution at Greensburg on June 24, 1981, where he was doing time for burglary and related charges in Hempfield.

In his first report to police, Bowen said he had met Scaglione in jail in June 1978, more than six months after the murders.

Bowen said Scaglione, who had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been institutionalized in the past, made several jailhouse confessions about the Bear Rocks case.

Bowen said Scaglione told him he "shot the two guys up at Bear Rocks, [and] the reason he shot them was he was paid to do a hit by either a doctor or [an] attorney."

At the time, police barely made note of Bowen's claims, writing a single paragraph in their report.

But 15 months later, his story about the Bear Rocks killings began to grow.

Two things had happened in the meantime.

First, prosecutors in Allegheny County had used Bowen's testimony to help convict a man in the shooting death of a New Kensington drug dealer, meaning he had proven to be a successful witness in one homicide trial.

Second, Bowen was in trouble again.

He was living in Beaver County after getting freedom from jail for his testimony in the New Kensington homicide case when he was accused of stealing the church donations from a Catholic parish.

With his long record, he was looking at considerable prison time if convicted of the church theft. So he summoned state troopers to the Monaca Police Department to make a second statement about the Bear Rocks case.

This time, Bowen requested a grant of immunity. The troopers initially refused to promise him anything. Bowen told his story anyway.

--A witness claim

In his Sept. 9, 1982, statement, Bowen said he had been drinking with Munchinski and Scaglione on the night of Dec. 1, 1977, in a Greensburg bar.

After he had tossed back more than 10 beers and shots of whiskey, and smoked some marijuana, Bowen said, he was handed the keys to Scaglione's lime green Ford Gran Torino and told to drive Scaglione and Munchinski up winding roads to a cabin in Bear Rocks.

During the trip, he said, Scaglione repeatedly flashed a chrome plated .25-caliber automatic revolver.

Bowen said he parked the car on a hill just past the cabin where Gierke and Alford lived. Munchinski and Scaglione got out of the car and removed something from the trunk before walking to the cabin.

Then he heard boards being pried open.

Moments later, he said, the two came running back to the car and told him to drive away quickly. After they sped away from the cabin, Bowen said, Scaglione tossed his weapon out of the car into a lake.

State police took that statement to Gerald R. Solomon, who was the Fayette County district attorney and is now a judge in Fayette County Common Pleas Court.

That led to a series of meetings between Bowen and investigators.

Soon, he was telling them that that he hadn't stayed with the car, but had gone with the two men to the cabin.

There, he said, he watched as Munchinski and Scaglione sodomized and then shot Alford and Gierke at point-blank range. Police decided that testimony, combined with that of three other people who claimed Munchinski and Scaglione had confessed the killings to them, was enough to file charges.

--Holes in the story

But there were several problems with Bowen's story, besides the fact that it kept changing and becoming more detailed:

Scuba divers never found a weapon in the lake where he said it had been tossed.

The lime green Gran Torino he identified as the getaway car wasn't purchased by Scaglione until after the murders.

And while Bowen contended he watched Munchinski and Scaglione sodomize the victims before murdering them, forensic tests later showed Munchinski's blood type did not match that of either sperm sample taken from the victims.

Bowen also could not account for why Alford's body was found 114 yards away from the cabin, on a neighbor's porch, when a forensic pathologist said Alford would not have been able to walk out of the cabin if he had been shot point-blank in the back.

Bowen said he had watched Gierke, the other victim, as he was killed by gunfire, yet never mentioned the fact that Gierke had placed a phone call for help, saying he had just been shot.

But the juries in Munchinski's two trials weren't able to see most of the holes in Bowen's story.

They learned about the Torino being purchased after the killings, but didn't consider it persuasive, because prosecutors discovered that Scaglione had owned a different colored-Gran Torino at the time. That meant Bowen could just have been confused about the color.

Munchinski's lawyers never challenged Bowen on his apparently faulty account of seeing Alford shot inside the cabin, or his failure to see Gierke make a phone call.

And jurors never learned about the difference in blood types between Munchinski and the sperm in the victims, because defense lawyers at the time didn't delve into the results of those tests.

Defense lawyers also failed to pursue what had happened to skin scrapings found underneath Alford's fingernails that disappeared while in the custody of state police.

There also were other pieces of critical evidence the jurors never saw, even though Munchinski's and Scaglione's lawyers asked for it.

Under what is known in American law as the "Brady Rule," prosecutors are obliged to give defense lawyers any information that might help exonerate a suspect or challenge the credibility of prosecution witnesses.

Based on records located long after Munchinski's conviction, his lawyer says it is now clear that Munchinski never received all of that information.

--Was he out of state?

One question defense attorneys raised was whether Bowen was even in Pennsylvania at the time of the Dec. 2, 1977, killings.

Before Munchinski's first trial, the defense lawyers had information that Bowen had fled the area to escape an outstanding warrant on a burglary charge in Westmoreland County.

Solomon, the Fayette County district attorney, repeatedly said his office had no information on Bowen's whereabouts the day of the killings.

That turned out to be false.

In late November 1977, Pennsylvania State Trooper George Bates had been assigned to investigate the theft of a wine bottle full of spare change from a Hempfield trailer park. The one and only suspect in the case was Richard Bowen.

In one of his reports, Bates said Bowen's sister and another woman said they put Bowen on a bus to Oklahoma on Dec. 1, 1977, one day before the Bear Rocks murders. Bowen's stepmother later confirmed that he had arrived in Oklahoma by bus in early December.

But Bates' police report did not surface until two years ago, when Munchinski's daughter Raina filed a subpoena with the state police as part of a federal suit challenging his conviction.

The Fayette County prosecutors also had claimed in several court pleadings that Bowen received no prison time reductions or cash payments in exchange for his testimony in the homicide case.

Yet Bowen eventually admitted in sworn statements that in exchange for telling his story in court, he was paid $600 by state police to relocate, and received another dozen or so cash payments of $50 to $150 from them.

Bowen also was promised a $10,000 reward offered by Alford's family. He never got it, because Alford's father, who listened to Bowen implicate himself on the witness stand, refused to pay it.

Court records in Westmoreland County also show Bowen got an early release from prison on the trailer court burglary case, and that he was granted breaks at least twice on parole violations, "at the request of [then Westmoreland County District Attorney] John J. Driscoll because of [Bowen's] role as a witness in a murder trial in Fayette County," according to two reports found by Raina Munchinski years after the conviction.

Munchinski and his new lawyer, Noah Geary of Washington, Pa., say the payments and jail time relief could have been important information in his trials.

In fact, prosecutor Ralph Warman made a point in his closing arguments of saying: "Did you hear anyone testify that [Bowen] received anything other than immunity? No ... Does that go to bolster his testimony to indicate that [Bowen] was there?"

One final omission: It turns out state police recorded at least seven of their interviews with Bowen on audio or video tape, yet the tapes have never been turned over to Munchinski's lawyers.

--The trials

It is impossible to know how persuasive any of the missing information might have been.

The first homicide jury deadlocked 10-2 vote for convicting Munchinski and Scaglione, because the two jurors in the minority felt the witnesses against them weren't reliable.

Scaglione and Munchinski were then tried separately.

In his second trial, Scaglione, whose mental health had been steadily deteriorating, confessed to the killings.

But he also said he was aided in the killings not by Munchinski, but by Homer Stewart, another drug dealer who had been one of the early suspects in the slayings.

Scaglione testified that Stewart, who has since died, told Bowen the night of the murders that his name was David Munchinski. Munchinski happened to look like him.

Scaglione's confession earned him a quick conviction and a life sentence. Stewart was never charged in the case, and in 1996, he died in prison.

Munchinski doesn't believe Scaglione committed the murders, despite his confession.

Still, he asked Scaglione to repeat his statements in Munchinski's second trial -- particularly the part where Scaglione identified Stewart as his partner in the killings.

Once he took the stand, however, Scaglione, who had already been sentenced to life in prison, cited his rights against self-incrimination. The trial judge then refused to allow Scaglione's previous testimony to be read into the record.

After Scaglione's silence, and after Bowen had repeated his earlier testimony, the second jury convicted Munchinski.

--A fictitious script

In November 1991, almost five years after Munchinski and Scaglione were convicted, Bowen was once again in jail, this time in Okmulgee County, Okla.

He asked to speak with an FBI agent.

With his lawyer present, he told Special Agent Matthew Schneck that "he was not involved in any fashion with Scaglione or Munchinski in the ...killings of Alford and Gierke." Bowen also said "he was told what his testimony would be" by Pennsylvania state troopers and prosecutors, who he said "were all part of providing him with a fictitious script ...he was to testify to and did in fact testify to in the Alford and Gierke murder trials."

He said he frequently met with troopers to rehearse his testimony. One of the troopers hit him and threatened him when he got confused by the facts they were feeding him, he said.

Munchinski found out about Bowen's statement when he was preparing an appeal of his conviction in 1992.

On April 4, 1992, Bowen recanted his trial testimony for a second time in a sworn deposition to Munchinski's lawyer, John Cupp of Uniontown.

In that statement, he not only said he was not in Pennsylvania on the night of the killings, but he also described how police fed him information, paid him, and helped him with his legal problems.

Later the same day, though, when Bowen was called to testify at another of Munchinski's post-conviction hearings, he asserted his rights against self incrimination and refused to repeat his recantation in court.

And in February 1993, during another of Munchinski's post-conviction hearings, Bowen recanted his recantations, once again standing by the stories he told in Munchinski's trials.

After that, Bowen moved back to Oklahoma, where he hanged himself in a jail cell four years ago while awaiting trial on another arrest.

--Frustrating appeals

Despite all of the questions Munchinski and his daughter raised after scouring through 12,000 pages of trial documents and other information, Munchinski's 1992 appeal in Fayette County was denied.

His federal suit was dismissed last year without an opinion.

Then he lost the services of Cupp, his longtime lawyer.

Finally, Raina Munchinski persuaded Geary to take the case on an installment payment plan.

One of Geary's first moves was to persuade Fayette County Common Pleas Judge William Franks to recuse himself, partly because some of his fellow judges in the county were prosecutors at the time of Munchinski's trials.

Last week, Geary asked Feudale, the appointed judge in the case, to disqualify the entire staff of the Fayette County District Attorney's Office from participating in the proceedings because of their earlier failures to disclose vital information and because Geary plans to call them as witnesses.

Both sides will file written briefs on that request before Feudale rules.

Warman, Solomon and the current Fayette County prosecutor have failed to respond to the Post-Gazette's written questions about the case.

If the Fayette County prosecutors are disqualified, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office would take over the prosecution.

Munchinski says all he wants is a fair hearing on the facts that he has sought since a jury convicted him in 1986.

In his statement to a judge before he was sentenced, he said, "there are two obvious victims in this case, James Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke."

But, he added, "society is also a victim here because the legal process ... has been circumvented throughout this case [and] the truth of the matter has not yet been found. ======================================================

Monday, June 24, 2002 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A Question of Innocence: Witness recanted testimony in another case

By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Less than two years before Richard Bowen became the star witness in the Bear Rocks murder cases, he played a key role in a trial involving the murder of a drug dealer.

As with the testimony that led to convictions against David Munchinski and Leon Scaglione for killing two men in Fayette County, Bowen's sworn statements in this case -- which also included Scaglione as a defendant -- were pocked with inconsistencies.

And, as he did in the Fayette County case, Bowen received favorable treatment for his testimony, and later, recanted his story.

Bowen, his nephew and two associates claimed that Scaglione, who has since died in prison, and Steven Szarewicz, formerly of Greensburg, told them that they had killed Billy Merriwether, 25, of New Kensington.

Merriwether, a drug dealer and robber, was found in February 1981 with gunshot wounds in the back of the head and chest, lying along a remote road in Harrison, just inside the northeastern Allegheny County line.

There were several suspects in Merriwether's slaying, but no charges were filed until Bowen and the other three men contacted Allegheny County police.

Bowen, who was in jail, called police on June 26, 1981, just two days after he told state troopers that Scaglione made a jailhouse confession to him in the Fayette County slayings. He told police Scaglione had confessed to the Merriwether killing as well, but he did not mention Szarewicz's name until months later, when he claimed Szarewicz had confessed to him.

At the time he was charged in the Merriwether killing, Szarewicz was doing time for a robbery. He not only denied involvement in the killing, but passed a polygraph administered by Allegheny County police on his role in it.

Police said Szarewicz failed the test on questions about his knowledge of Scaglione's involvement. Szarewicz and Scaglione were friends, and Szarewicz said the reason he failed questions on Scaglione was that police told him Scaglione was involved in the killing before he took the test.

Officers filed charges against Szarewicz, Scaglione and a former New Kensington police officer named Peter Mercurio based on the testimony of Bowen and the other men. Charges against Mercurio were later dropped.

The witnesses contended that Szarewicz and Scaglione told them that they killed Merriwether under contract for a New Kensington organized crime figure.

They said the mobster, a longtime associate of Pittsburgh's LaRocca Cosa Nostra family, was upset that Merriwether, a black man who used drugs, was dating his daughter, and suspected Merriwether was also breaking into vending machines owned by a mob-controlled company.

The story resonated with jury members, but had several inconsistencies.

Szarewicz, who claimed he was sleeping in his sister's trailer in Greensburg at the time of the slaying, argued that records show Bowen had no contact with him in the jail where Bowen said Szarewicz had confessed to him.

Neither Bowen nor the others could correctly describe the make of the car used to abduct Merriwether and dispose of his body.

Bowen and the others also denied getting favorable deals with legal problems in return for their testimony, but that proved to be a lie.

Despite the problems with the witnesses, Scaglione and Szarewicz were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Merriwether's killing.

Since then, with the help of his own jailhouse research, Szarewicz has found evidence that Bowen and the others recanted their sworn testimony more than once. An affidavit filed in court by well-known defense attorney Patrick Thomassey, Szarewicz's original lawyer, said Bowen confronted him at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and admitted lying in the case.

Thomassey told a judge that David Cannon, another witness against Szarewicz, also told him he lied on the witness stand.

Over time, in fact, all four witnesses retracted their stories, and then later, said they had been telling the truth the first time. Bowen, the key witness, hanged himself in an Oklahoma jail four years ago.

So far, Szarewicz has not been able to find a judge who thinks the shifting stories by Bowen and other witnesses are reason enough to reopen his case. ======================================================

Thursday, August 01, 2002 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DA out in 1977 double murder

Conflicts of interest spur removal plea

By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Fayette County district attorney has asked a judge to remove her office from involvement in the controversial double murder case of David Munchinski because of potential conflicts of interest.

Last week, District Attorney Nancy D. Vernon's office was relieved of responsibility in the 1977 case in which Munchinski and another man were convicted in the murders of two men in Bear Rocks. All future prosecution of Munchinski's case will be handled by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office.

Vernon's action came after Noah Geary of Washington, Pa., Munchinski's lawyer, asked her office to step aside because he planned to call members of that office about several pieces of evidence he said could have helped his client but were never turned over to Munchinski during his two trials.

In 1986, Munchinski was convicted of killing James Peter Alford, 24, and Raymond Gierke, 28, in a remote mountain cabin in Fayette County nine years earlier during a drug robbery. He has served 15 1/2 years of a double life sentence.

Geary is seeking either a dismissal of convictions or a new trial for Munchinski, based on numerous problems with the evidence against him.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published reports in June from the Innocence Institute of Western Pennsylvania which had found that Richard Bowen, the only reported witness against Munchinski, repeatedly said he had lied about what he saw and was coached in his testimony by state police. The institute is an investigative reporting project at Point Park College.

The newspaper also noted that prosecutors hid a report suggesting Bowen wasn't in Pennsylvania on the day of the killings. Bowen hanged himself in an Oklahoma jail four years ago.

Geary has also alleged that reports incriminating others in the murders were kept away from Munchinski for years.

He intends to probe rulings surrounding a confession by Leon Scaglione, Munchinski's co-defendant, who said in open court that another man was his partner in the crimes. A judge refused to allow Munchinski's jury to hear that evidence. Scaglione has since died in prison.

Munchinski also claims results of blood tests will prove that he did not participate in the rapes of the two victims before they were killed.

In March, Geary persuaded all the judges in Fayette County to recuse themselves from the case because he plans to call them as witnesses to question them about rulings on evidence during Munchinski's trials.

Senior Judge Barry Feudale of Northumberland County, who was appointed to the case by the state Supreme Court, has set a hearing schedule that is supposed to begin in October.