According to the Observer-Reporter.com, the chief of litigation in Washington County, Deputy District Attorney Joseph Zupancic, has resigned his position in connection with a case we wrote about earlier this fall.
In the lead up to a routine robbery trial, Zupancic failed to disclose to the defense the existence of two entirely contradictory letters from the state’s chief witness, one implicating the defendant, the other exonerating him. The judge found Zupancic had “knowingly withheld evidence” and effectively ended the prosecution by barring the witness from testifying. Zupancic was later suspended. From the Observer-Reporter.com:
Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle ruled in September that Zupancic and the district attorney’s office engaged in prosecutorial misconduct after Zupancic testified he “forgot” to pass along letters written by his key witness to defendant Shayne Coffield’s attorney, Amanda Como, referencing exculpatory evidence.
Zupancic tried a robbery case against Coffield, 24, of Washington, in June in which Coffield and his co-defendant, Christopher M. Pitzarella, 24, of Washington, were accused of robbing the Uni-Mart on East Maiden Street in Washington in the early hours of March 27, 2013. Two clerks working at the time were injured. One was shot, and the other was assaulted. Pitzarella testified against Coffield, claiming Coffield shot the clerk. Coffield was acquitted after a two-day jury trial. Pitzarella pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to 11 ½ to 23 months in jail.
District Attorney Gene Vittone previously declined to comment on Zupancic’s suspension, stating it was a personnel matter. He did not return calls or emails seeking comment about Zupancic’s resignation.
It is safe to say it’s the exception not the rule to see a prosecutor first suspended, and later resign in the wake of what is, at this point, an all-but routine Brady violation in a relatively minor case.
As we wrote when we first highlighted this story, the local media is to be commended for drawing attention to Zupancic’s conduct, rather than decrying another instance of criminals “getting off on technicalities.”
Without being privy to the internal deliberations that led to his resignation, it’s impossible to say for sure that his misconduct was the proximate cause of his departure from the job, but it certainly looks that way from the outside. And if that is in fact that case, then we can now add that District Attorney Vittone also deserves to be commended for not tolerating his deputy’s deliberate legal and ethical violations.