A Pennsylvania man who spent nearly 25 years in prison is being released to his daughter in New Port Richey while he awaits a new trial in a double murder case.
David Munchinski was convicted in 1986 for the drug-related killings and sexual assaults of two men in Bears Rock, Fayette County, a rural community in southwest Pennsylvania full of expensive A-frame homes. But a federal judge last month ordered a new trial after finding "outrageous misconduct" by the prosecutors, who failed to share evidence with the defense that cast doubt on Munchinski's guilt. Prosecutors are appealing that ruling.
In a hearing Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Lenihan approved Munchinski's request for bail on the condition that he live with his daughter in New Port Richey.
"I'm so happy right now, I'm having a hard time putting it into words," Munchinski's daughter, Rania Tousey, told the Associated Press. "This is the day that we have been waiting for, and I can't wait to take my dad home."
Tousey was 11 when her father was convicted.
Although he was the son of a small-town homicide detective, Munchinski had a reputation with police as a hot-headed tough guy with ties to the drug trade when the murders occurred about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh.
James Alford and Raymond Gierke were killed in 1977, but the case went cold until 1982, when a man named Richard Bowen told authorities that he drove Munchinski and a man named Leon Scaglione to the cabin the day of the killings.
Munchinski has 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 various versions of the crimes, implicating others but never Munchinski. Scaglione also refused to testify at Munchinski's second trial in 1986, making Bowen the key witness who helped convict Munchinski.
Bowen later recanted his testimony and committed suicide in 1998 — which is one reason defense attorney Noah Geary predicted Friday that Munchinski will not be retried if prosecutors lose their appeal on the federal judge's decision granting the new trial.
"There won't be any retrial because the one witness that's central to the case is deceased, and his testimony (was) perjured anyway," Geary said.
In ordering the new trial, the judge agreed with Geary that prosecutors hid a police report suggesting Bowen was in Oklahoma when the killings occurred. Geary contends prosecutors hid 11 other pieces of evidence which suggested, among other things, that semen found at the scene wasn't Munchinski's and that Alford and Gierke engaged in sexual activity a day earlier. That would have contradicted Bowen's statement that they were sodomized within minutes of being killed.
"They orchestrated this bogus prosecution that violated David's civil and constitutional rights by not turning over all this exculpatory evidence," Geary said.
Pennsylvania law generally doesn't permit people to remain free on bond while charged with murder — which is Munchinski's legal status now that his conviction has been overturned.
But the judge agreed with the defense attorney, who argued Munchinski, 59, should be freed under federal law. He said Munchinski, who has Parkinson's and other health problems, will be irreparably harmed if he's not released; he isn't a risk to flee or a danger to the community; and the prosecution's appeal is unlikely to succeed.