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New trial ordered for convicted murderer
Pocono Record Writer
In a strongly worded rebuke, the appeals judges said Tuesday Monroe County District Attorney Mark Pazuhanich exercised "poor judgment which prejudiced (Manning) before the jury."
The judges said Pazuhanich erred by referring to comments made by a prospective juror who was dismissed from the panel because she said she was on the prosecution's side.
In a 2-1 decision the Pennsylvania Superior Court wrote, "The prosecutor's remarks concerning Mrs. Rowe (the prospective juror) were highly irregular."
Manning is serving 12 to 30 years in prison for fatally stabbing another man in the heart and then kicking him in the head.
Manning, through his defense attorney Salvatore Vito, argued that he was simply defending himself during an fight started by Harry Burley Jr., 30, on June 16, 1997, at Muldoon's Sunoco on Route 611 in Scotrun.
Vito said Wednesday, "I am very happy for the Manning family. I'm 150 percent behind them."
Manning lost his first appeal to the Superior Court when he claimed President Judge Ronald E. Vican "abused his discretion'' and "assumed a prosecutorial role'' at the trial by asking 80 probing questions of the defendant.
In Manning's second appeal to the Superior Court, new attorneys Thomas Sundmaker and Jeffrey Velander argued that Vito should have objected to Pazuhanich's "improper" remarks.
In closing remarks to the jury Pazuhanich said, "Do you remember Barbara Rowe in jury selection? She was the woman who sat here (and said to Pazuhanich) 'I have a great deal of confidence in you, I mean, we wouldn't be here if you did not do your homework, right.' "The appellate court judges asserted that Pazuhanich wrongly brought up material in his closing that was not in the trial record. The judges noted Rowe was "struck from the case" because of her pro-prosecution stance.
"When the prosecution made direct reference in his closing argument to statements for which she was dismissed, the prosecution reintroduced the same bias and prejudice that the trial judge was preventing by dismissing Ms. Rowe for cause."
The decision granting a new trial was praised Wednesday by Sundmaker, "It is great for Manning and his family. There was no question Burley was the aggressor."
Velander pointed out that the Superior Court judges only ruled on some of the opjection raised in their appeal. Not address, for instance, was the appeal's assertion that Vican intervened in the prosecution's case with "80 questions of the defendant, many of which were leading in the usual form of examination."
Pazuhanich said Wednesday he intended to ask the full Superior Court to hear a re-argument. Failing that, he said he would petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
If rejected on those moves, he promised he would re-try to case.
Meanwhile Manning remains in prison, having served about half of his minimum sentence. Sundmaker said the attorney's could ask the court to allow Manning out on bail, but no decision has been made.
Manning's family has carried on a long public relations campaign to free Manning who lived in Swiftwater, They claim he is an innocent man who was just trying to defend himself against an attack.
A petition to then Gov. Thomas Ridge circulated by the Manning family stated, "To the horror and utter disbelief of all who knew Michael, and of his case he was sentenced to serve 12 - 30 years in state prison where 'Prisoner number DW 1048' - a human being - now languishes; his physical condition deteriorating."
At the trial Manning, who is handicapped and walks with a cane, recounted a lengthy fight and said Burley swiped at him with the knife
Manning said he punched Burley in the face and Manning grabbed the knife.
Manning testified he backed away, pointing the knife at Burley,
Burley grabbed at Manning's legs but tripped and fell while still holding on to Manning's legs.
Manning kicked him several times to get Burley to release him.
Manning said did not remember stabbing Burley.
Burley was stabbed in the heart and on top of his head.
Copyright © September 12, 2002, Pocono Record