In 1977, David Munchinski was convicted of the murders of two men in the small town of Bullskin, PA. Munchinski, who is now 59, was convicted largely on the basis of evidence presented through the testimony of Richard Bowen, a supposed accomplice to the crime. The state’s star witness, Bowen later recanted his testimony before committing suicide.
Through the appeals process in Munchinski’s case, reports surfaced that suggested Bowen may have been in Oklahoma at the time of the murders, and that there were alternate suspects in the case that Munchinksi’s trial lawyers never knew about. A jury could not agree on a decision at Munchinski’s first trial and a mistrial was declared. The State continued to suppress the reports through his second trial, when he was convicted.
In September, 2012 the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the conviction and sentence against Munchinski, attributing his wrongful conviction to the actions of the prosecutors who took him to trial:
“Considering all of the evidence that would have been presented to the jury, Munchinski has clearly and convincingly demonstrated that but for the commonwealth’s (withholding evidence), no reasonable jurors could rationally believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Munchinski committed the Bear Rocks murders…The commonwealth’s case against Munchinski was always close, even without the critical pieces of evidence that the commonwealth unlawfully suppressed.”
However, despite the 3rd Circuit’s finding that Munchinski had “persuasively” demonstrated his innocence, a U.S. Magistrate Lisa Lenihan ruled last week that she doesn’t have the authority to dismiss the murder charges against Munchinksi, who was released last year. It is unclear if the State would try to take him to trial again, but an AP article reports that “Deputy Attorney General Gregory Simatic argued that the matter was moot because Munchinski has been released.”
The Fayette County prosecutors who tried the case are now sitting district court judges.