Western Pennsylvania
Victims of the State

25 Cases

Allegheny County, PA

Toth, Sabol, & Rusnok

Jan 1, 1891  (Braddock)

Andrew Toth, Michael Sabol, and George Rusnok, all Hungarian immigrants, were sentenced to death for the beating murder of Michael Quinn. The murder occurred during a labor riot at Andrew Carnegie's Edgar Thomson Steel Works. At trial, one witness, Peter Mullin, testified he saw Toth savagely beat Quinn at Furnace C, while two other witnesses testified that they saw Sabol and Rusnok savagely beat Quinn at Furnace A. The defendants' sentences were commuted to life imprisonment in 1892 because it was felt that the Hungarians, who spoke little English, had not received as impartial a trial as three Americans would have received. Sabol was pardoned in 1895 and Rusnok in 1897. It is not clear why Sabol was pardoned, but in granting Rusnok's pardon, the PA Board of Pardons felt that he had been mistaken for another man and that his alibi of not having been at the riot was correct. Toth was denied a pardon because of the direct testimony against him by witness Mullin.

Mullin's testimony became questionable when evidence surfaced that Furnace C, at which Mullin saw the beating, was 500 feet away from Furnace A where the other witnesses saw the beating. At trial it was presumed the furnaces were much closer to one another. Since Quinn was found, still alive, at Furnace A, he presumably was beaten there, and the witnesses' testimony indicated he was uninjured before being beaten, discounting two separate beatings. Thus, it seems probable that Mullin's testimony was fabricated. In addition, Mullin initially identified a man named Steve Toth rather than Andrew Toth as the man he saw beating Quinn. Andrew Toth and Steve Toth were unrelated. Steve Toth fled to Hungary, but confessed to the murder in Dec. 1910 shortly before his death. Pennsylvania Governor Tener granted Andrew Toth a full pardon in March 1911.  (CWC) (CTI)  [1/06]

Allegheny County, PA

Anthony Piano

Mar 1937 (Pittsburgh)

Anthony Piano was convicted of participating in the robbery of a retired mailman named George Fleet. Piano was convicted after being identified by Fleet. Months later Fleet identified another man, Charles Pampana, as the assailant he thought was Piano. Piano was released from prison and exonerated after serving 7 months of imprisonment.  (Not Guilty)  [7/09]

Allegheny County, PA

Jerry Pacek

Nov 16, 1958

Jerry Pacek was convicted of the murder of 53-year-old Lillian Stevick. Pacek, then age 13, found her body in the back yard of 929 Sixth Ave. in Brackenridge during the early morning hours of Nov. 17, 1958. She had been raped and assaulted with 19 blows to the head. She died the following day. The day after Brackenridge's death, police questioned Pacek for 17 hours during which Pacek gave several confessions to the murder, saying he used a different weapon each time. Following his trial, Pacek served 10 years of a 10 to 20 year sentence.

In 1990, Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent, became interested in the case. He called Pacek up one night and said, “You don't know me, but I think I can prove you didn't kill Mrs. Stevick and I'd like to try and get you a pardon.” There was substantial evidence that Pacek could not have committed the crime, including three alibi witnesses. The case was reopened by Allegheny County.

In 1958, up to 1,500 people lined Morgan Street to gawk at Pacek as police forced him to re-enact the murder in a humiliating public spectacle. District Attorney Colville said in a 1991 Inside Edition TV report, “If I tried that in today's court, I'd be thrown out the front door.” In 1991, Governor Casey pardoned Pacek. In 2004, Pacek died of cancer at age 59.  (Fisher Website)  [9/08]

Allegheny County, PA

John Dolenc

July 8, 1975 (Mt. Lebanon)

John Dolenc was convicted of murdering his wife, Patricia. The couple had separated for a week, but agreed to meet in Bridgeville on Saturday night, July 5. Dolenc said Patricia did not show up. The prosecution argued that she did show up, and Dolenc murdered her that night. Dolenc spent that night barhopping in Bridgeville with his uncle. He was able to prove that he had been at some bars, although police did not check them all. Even if they did, the prosecution later argued that he would have had time to murder his wife between some of the visits.
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Allegheny County, PA

Steven Slutzker

Dec 28, 1975 (Wilkinsburg)

Steven Slutzker was convicted of the murder of twenty-nine-year-old John Mudd. Slutzker was a suspect in the murder because he had had an affair with Mudd's wife, Arlene. However, Slutzker had a clear alibi that put him miles away from the killing. Slutzker was in McKeesport with alibi witnesses, his van there was covered with newly fallen snow, and there were no foot tracks near the van or near his home across the street from the murder scene. At the time of the murder, the victim's son, John Mudd, Jr, was five years old. In 1990, 15 years later, Mudd, Jr. claimed he had a flashback episode in which repressed memories of the murder flooded his mind. In the flashback he identified Slutzker as the killer. In 1992, a prosecutor used Mudd Jr.'s testimony and some questionable eyewitness testimony to convict Slutzker of the murder.
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Allegheny County, PA

Zeke Goldblum

Feb 9, 1976

Charles J. “Zeke” Goldblum was convicted of stabbing to death George Wilhelm on the top deck of a parking garage in downtown Pittsburgh. It was established that Wilhelm drove his car into the Seventh Avenue garage with Clarence Miller in the front passenger seat and Zeke Goldblum in the rear seat behind Wilhelm. The stabbing appeared to be unplanned as it occurred at a relatively public site at 9:15 p.m. on a night when all the downtown stores were open. In addition, the killer did not bring a weapon, but used half a grass shear that had been in Wilhelm's car. Under Pennsylvania law, two persons cannot be legally culpable in the unplanned murder unless both participated in the assault.
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Allegheny County, PA

Bruce Nelson

Aug 3, 1981 (Oakland)

Bruce Nelson was sentenced to a life term for the rape and murder of 53-year-old Corrine Donovan. The victim was found strangled in an Oakland parking garage. The actual perpetrator, Terrence Moore, escaped a possible death sentence by accusing Nelson. Following the conviction Moore admitted framing Nelson by forging a letter in which Nelson confessed to the crime. DNA tests exonerated Nelson in 1991.  (IP) (CBJ)  [8/05]

Allegheny County, PA

Thomas Doswell

Mar 13, 1986

Thomas Doswell was convicted of raping a 48-year-old woman at Forbes Hospital in Pittsburgh. Even though Doswell bore no resemblance to a description given to police, the victim and a witness picked him out of a photo lineup. Doswell had previously been charged with raping his ex-girlfriend. At trial on the previous charge, a jury called the sex consensual, but the detective who brought charges had wanted to “get” Doswell. He was the same detective who put together the photo lineup for the Forbes Hospital assault. Doswell was sentenced to 13 to 26 years in prison. He was denied parole four times because he refused to accept responsibility. DNA tests exonerated Doswell and a judge dismissed all charges against him on Aug 1, 2005.  (IP) (CS Monitor) (Innocence Institute)  [9/06]

Allegheny County, PA

Drew Whitley

Aug 17, 1988 (Duquesne)

Andrew Whitley was convicted of murdering Noreen Malloy, 22, a night manager at a McDonald's restaurant near Kennywood Park. Another employee who was Whitley's neighbor recognized the man as Whitley. The witness admitted that he could not see the perpetrator's face clearly as he was wearing a nylon mask, but he recognized Whitley by his voice, the shape of his head, and the way that he walked. A third employee identified Whitley in court. In addition, a death row inmate testified at trial that Whitley confessed to him in prison. Whitley's conviction was overturned in 2006 after DNA tests on hairs left in the killer's discarded mask showed that they did not belong to Whitley.  (Post-Gazette) (IP) (Innocence Institute)  [9/06]

Allegheny County, PA

Paul Ford, Jr.

Feb 1994 (West Mifflin)

Paul Ford, Jr. was convicted of murdering Maurice Price. Price, 25, was shot to death outside a Monview Heights tenement in West Mifflin. The 410 lb. Price had gone there with $250 to buy a quarter ounce of cocaine. Price could not find his regular dealer so he asked people milling around if anyone else could make the sale.

Initial descriptions of the assailant do not match Ford and the only evidence against him is testimony from three admitted liars. Seven people, including two jail guards, say that Joey Jones told them that he was the killer. Two others gave descriptions of the killer that match Jones. However, on the witness stand Jones fingered Ford. Nikela Carrington, a crack addict, told police she watched Ford rob and kill Price. When asked where she was at the time of the shooting, Carrington wavered, but eventually settled on saying she was in her apartment. However, from her apartment a neighboring building would have blocked her view. Nicole Bennett, a friend of Carrington's and a fellow drug user, denied seeing the shooting for six days, then told police she saw Ford pull the trigger. She later admitted conspiring with Carrington to extort money from Ford by threatening to say that he did it.

Ford, a street-level drug dealer, admitted being at the scene of the killing with some associates but denied involvement in it. He believes he was targeted because eight years previously his father had shot the lead investigator, Detective Gary Tallent. Ford's attorney, Robert Garshak, did not call a number of relevant witnesses at trial because he said the prosecution's case was so weak that he did not need them.  (JD) (Innocence Institute)  [4/08]

Allegheny County, PA

Terrell Johnson

July 21, 1994 (Pittsburgh)

Terrell Johnson was convicted of murdering Verna Robinson, a police informant. Robinson was willing to implicate a member of the Hazelwood Mob in a drive-by shooting. She was the first person ever placed in the Pittsburgh Police Witness Protection Program. She later refused protection because she did not have money to pay the rent and utilities on the apartment police found for her. She moved back to her mother's house in the heart of Hazelwood Mob territory, where she was killed.

Johnson's conviction was due to the testimony of Dolly McBryde, an alleged eyewitness to Robinson's murder. McBryde was a crack cocaine addict and her criminal offenses included fraud, theft, prostituting her children, and using them to steal. While under police protection she was caught shoplifting at a drug store and stealing furnishings from a safe-house hotel.

Initially, McBryde said she witnessed the murder by hiding in bushes in front of the house at which it occurred. However, after she realized her view would have been obstructed from that spot, she changed her testimony and stated she witnessed the murder from a second location. However, the property owner said McBryde could not have been at the second location, as the gate to it was locked, and the owner had lost the key to the gate 10 years prior to the murder.

McBryde testified she heard one shot, then another as much as two minutes later. She said the victim did not fall to the ground until after the second shot. Other witnesses said the shots were simultaneous and a forensic expert said either one of them would felled the victim immediately. McBryde's name does not appear on any initial police reports about the murder. McBryde came forward two and a half weeks afterwards, when she was caught shoplifting and arrested on several outstanding warrants, most of them theft-related.

Besides Johnson, two other men were charged with Robinson's murder. Unlike Johnson, these other men could afford better lawyers who were successfully able to attack McBryde's eyewitness account. Both men were acquitted after Johnson was found guilty.  (Innocence Institute)  [10/07]

Allegheny County, PA

Michael Day

Aug 10, 1994

Michael Day was convicted of the rape and murder of his three-year-old daughter, Tequyla Pierce Day. On the night of her death, Michael’s wife, DeAnndra Day, called 911 and reported that she found Tequyla face down in the bathtub. She was not breathing. When paramedics arrived they found Michael, wrapped in a bedsheet at the waist, incorrectly attempting to perform CPR on Tequyla. Michael’s naked body was exposed when the sheet was taken to wipe vomit from Tequyla’s face. Michael said he had genital herpes and had not been wearing underwear to speed up the healing process. The initial autopsy report, completed by forensic pathologist Dr. Shakir, said that Tequyla died as a result of severe brain edema due to meningitis with drowning as a contributory cause.
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Allegheny County, PA

Da'Ron Cox

Dec 7, 1996 (Homewood)

Da'Ron Cox was convicted of murdering 19-year-old Brian Roberts. Ten days before his murder, Roberts pointed an automatic weapon at a police officer and was arrested. He was carrying 34 rocks of crack cocaine. He walked free after telling police the gun and drugs belonged to Roland Cephas. Cephas was busted and vowed retaliation.

Police arrested Cox after an imprisoned informant implicated him in exchange for money and freedom. Police also claimed Cox confessed during interrogation. Cox admitted confessing, but said police told him he would get the death penalty if he did not confess and would only prosecute him on a self-defense charge if he did confess. The informant said he saw Cox shoot Roberts at close range in the chest. Cox confessed to shooting Roberts from a distance in the chest. However, Roberts was actually shot in the back.

After the conviction, numerous witnesses have come forward indicating that neither Cox nor the informant were at the murder scene and that Cephas had killed Roberts in retaliation. Cephas and the informant were murdered in 1997 and 1999 during a wave of street gang killings. Cox is still imprisoned in 2006.  (Post-Gazette)  [12/06]

Allegheny County, PA

Troy Joseph

May 24, 1997 (Pittsburgh)

Troy Joseph was convicted of murdering his sister's boyfriend, Richard Pearson. Joseph claimed he was having an argument with Pearson, a known drug dealer, when a masked gunman interrupted them. Joseph managed to escape, but the gunman shot Pearson. No murder weapon was ever found. During an interrogation, Detective Richard McDonald got 18-year-old Joseph to sign some notes allegedly to verify when they were taken. Joseph's signatures were later used in court to suggest he signed a confession.

While in prison, Joseph met another inmate, Jacques Maynor, who had witnessed the murder. At the time of the murder he had told police that he witnessed Joseph run from his sister's apartment, and then watched a masked man gun down Pearson. Prosecutors were required to turn over to the defense all exculpatory evidence, and had withheld this report at Joseph's trial. As of 2006, the issue is being appealed.  (Post-Gazette)  [3/07]

Allegheny County, PA

Hosea Davis

Sept 16, 2001 (East Liberty)

Hosea Davis was convicted of the murder of Tommy Paige. Paige had died from a puncture wound, that Davis maintains he did not inflict. The key prosecution witness testified that Davis stabbed Paige. On cross-examination, Davis's lawyer got her to say, “I think that [Paige] was really, really asking for it that night.” The lawyer then refused to call several witnesses willing to testify that Davis could not have stabbed Paige, and relied instead on a self-defense strategy. The strategy failed, but since the conviction, the key witness has recanted.  (Innocence Institute)

Allegheny County, PA

Graham & Holliday

Convicted 2003

(Federal Case tried in Pittsburgh) Cordez Graham and his wife Crystal Holliday were alleged to have used counterfeit sales receipts to obtain refunds at several Bed Bath & Beyond stores. Both were convicted of violating a federal law involving transportation of stolen securities. In a post trial motion, the defendants argued that legally a security must have a value in and of itself and identify the owner. Since the allegedly counterfeit sales receipts met none of these criteria, a judge agreed that they could not have violated the law, and overturned their convictions. A co-defendant, Angela Barnes, who pleaded guilty to the non-crime, was also eligible to have her conviction overturned.  (JD)  [9/05]

Cambria County, PA

Ernest Simmons

May 5, 1992 (Johnstown)

Ernest Simmons was convicted of the robbery and brutal murder of 80-year-old Anna Knaze. He was sentenced to death. Detective Richard Rok recruited Simmon's girlfriend, LaCherie Pletcher, to secretly tape record Simmons, but on tape Simmons denied killing Knaze 19 times. This tape evidence was hidden from the defense. A key witness, Margaret Cobaugh, admitted she gave false testimony against Simmons while under pressure from Detective Rok. As of 2004, Detective Rok is in federal prison for kicking a handcuffed suspect in the face, breaking his nose, and then stepping on his groin.  (Post-Gazette) (Innocence Institute)  [12/05]

Erie County, PA

Corinne Wilcott

June 8, 2002  (Erie)

Corinne Wilcott was convicted of fetal homicide. During a fight, Wilcott had twice kicked her husband's pregnant lover, Sheena Carson, in the belly. Wilcott later said she did not believe Carson was pregnant. Following the fight, doctors could not detect a fetal heartbeat. The baby was stillborn four days later. Although there was no bruising on Carson’s abdomen, Dr. Eric Vey, a pathologist, told Wilcott's jury that the fetus suffocated when the blunt force trauma of Wilcott’s kick separated the placenta from the uterine wall.

Dr. Miles Jones, the defense’s forensic expert, testified that such kicks would not constitute enough trauma to cause a placental abruption. He said the impact would have to be equivalent to a serious car accident. He also suggested significant bacteria found on Carson’s placenta showed the child could have died as much as a month prior to the fight. He added Carson had no pain, bleeding, or spiked heart rate normally associated with a placental abruption. Wilcott was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Other evidence supports the defense view that Carson's baby was dead long before the fight. Based on her prenatal examination, Carson should have been 18 to 19 weeks pregnant. Vey, who did not view Carson's previous medical history, determined the fetal age to be 15.2 weeks, based on the size and development of the baby’s organs. Dr. Mark Caine, a gynecologist, said his examination of autopsy photographs show no placental abruption occurred,. He also concluded that the fetus was dead long before the fight.  (Justice)  [11/09]

 

Fayette County, PA

David Munchinski

Dec 2, 1977 (Bear Rocks)

David Munchinski was convicted in 1986 of the 1977 murders of drug dealers, James Peter Alford and Raymond Gierke. The conviction was based on prosecutorial concealment of exculpatory evidence. The conviction was later reversed and Munchinski was released in 2004.  (II)  [7/05]

Fayette County, PA

Crystal Weimer

Jan 27, 2001 (Connellsville)

Crystal Dawn Weimer was convicted in 2006 of conspiring to murder Curtis Haith. Haith, 21, was beaten and shot to death outside his Connellsville apartment following a late night party. Hours before the murder, Weimer and about a dozen or so friends including Haith drank beer at her house in Uniontown. At 11:30 p.m., one of the partiers drove Haith to Connellsville, 12 miles away. Weimer tagged along but returned to Uniontown within an hour. Haith partied at a Connellsville bar until 2:00 a.m., then invited some of the patrons to his nearby apartment. The last patrons left Haith's apartment about 4:30 a.m. Twenty minutes later, a neighbor called police reporting frantic screams from the area of Haith's apartment. Police found Haith beaten to death with a gunshot wound to the face in a lot next to his apartment.
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Jefferson County, PA

Ernest Haines

Mar 22, 1916

In 1916, Ernest Haines, 18, was convicted with Henry Ward Mottern, 17, of the murder of Haines' father, William Haines. Both boys were sentenced to die in the electric chair. In 1918, Ernest Haines was retried, acquitted, and released from imprisonment.  (ISI)  [7/05]

Juniata County, PA

Emerson McCauley

June 26, 1977

Emerson McCauley was convicted in 1989 of the 1977 murder of 21-year-old Devera Frink. Frink had left her waitressing job at the Nittany Mall at 10 p.m. on June 25, 1977. She was then seen hitchhiking, a few miles away, in State College at 11 p.m. She was last seen alive about 15 minutes later in Boalsburg, a short distance from her apartment. Some time later, at 1:30 a.m., a motorist found her body more than 50 miles away under the twin-span bridges of U.S. Route 322 at the Thompsontown exit. She had been beaten, raped, and choked, but had been alive when she was thrown off one the bridges. The bridge she was thrown off was 44 feet above where her body was found.
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Lawrence County, PA

Thomas Kimbell, Jr.

June 15, 1994 (Pulaski Twp)

Thomas “Hank” Hughes Kimbell, Jr. was sentenced to death for the 1994 murders of his neighbor, Bonnie Lou Dryfuse, 34, her daughters, Jacqueline Mae Dryfuse, 7, and Heather Sue Dryfuse, 4, and their cousin, Stephanie Herko, 5. The murders occurred at the Dryfuses' mobile home at 100 Ambrosia Road in Pulaski Township. Bonnie was stabbed 28 times, Jacqueline, 14 times, Heather, 16 times, and Stephanie, 6 times. Bonnie's husband, Thomas “Jake” Dryfuse discovered the bodies shortly after 3 p.m. Mary Herko, who was Stephanie's mother and Jake's sister, had been talking on the telephone with Bonnie at 2:20 p.m. and testified at trial that Bonnie said she had to go because “someone is pulling up the driveway” (possibly the murderer). Previously, Herko had told the police that Bonnie had said, “Jake is pulling up the driveway.” The defense was not allowed to impeach Herko's testimony to bring out the fact that Bonnie had indicated her husband rather than just “someone.” The husband, Jake, claimed to be elsewhere at the time the phone call ended.
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Lawrence County, PA

Justin Kirkwood

Aug 14, 2002 (New Castle)

Justin Kirkwood was convicted of robbing a craft store in New Castle of $130. Two clerks identified him as the robber despite discrepancies between Kirkwood and the initial descriptions the clerks gave of the robber. At trial, Kirkwood had seven alibi witnesses, including one, Bill Fitts, the owner of the largest car dealership in New Castle. Fitts said he called the Kirkwood household at 7 p.m., which was the time of the robbery. He called to inform the Kirkwoods that he had arranged for them the use of a Lincoln Town Car for an upcoming wedding. Fitts said Justin Kirkwood answered the phone when he called. Fitts knew Justin, because he employed Justin's father. He also knew it was 7 p.m. because as soon as he hung up, he watched the lottery picks on television.

On cross-examination, the prosecutor, DA Birgitta Tolvanen, displayed a copy of Fitts' phone records and brought out the fact that there was no listing of the phone call on them. Fitts had no explanation for the apparent discrepancy. The defense attorney complained that the records were not made available in pretrial discovery, but did not ask for a mistrial or otherwise object. The DA did not introduce the records into evidence. On closing, the DA referred to the records as undermining Fitts' credibility. Thinking the alibi witnesses were probable liars, the jury convicted Kirkwood of armed robbery and he was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 7 years in jail.

Following the conviction, a copy of the phone records was obtained along with evidence that another suspect committed the crime. Fitts' phone call to the Kirkwood residence was not listed, because it was a local call and no local calls were listed in the records as they were free. During appeals, the DA admitted she tricked Fitts with the phone records and knew they did not contain local calls and that she had misled the jury. Kirkwood's conviction was then overturned. Charges against Kirkwood were dismissed in 2006.  (JD)  [2/07]

Washington County, PA

Tiffany Pritchett

Dec 14, 1993 (Donora)

Tiffany Pritchett was convicted of murdering Troy Groomes, 25. In March 1995, Dameon Isbell was caught trying to rob a Donora Uni-Mart with the gun that killed Groomes. Once arrested, Isbell told state troopers he had witnessed Pritchett kill Groomes and then stole the gun from where she had stashed it. He said Pritchett, who had no criminal record, sought revenge because Groomes had raped her. Pritchett denied the rape allegation and told police she watched Isbell execute Groomes in a dispute over drugs. After Isbell passed a polygraph test, his statement was used to charge Pritchett with murder.

Pritchett's attorney, Francis Sichko, allowed his client to be polygraphed while he was at a Pitt/Temple football game. After the test, state troopers interrogated Pritchett. They claimed the test proved her guilt. “They started banging on the desk and hollering, trying to scare me and things like that, a lot of intimidation,” said Pritchett. Troopers claimed Pritchett confessed, although they did not take notes or ask her to sign a confession. Pritchett denied the confession, but was convicted.

In 1998, Pritchett submitted an affidavit from an inmate stating that Isbell had bragged that he had gotten away with killing Groomes. In 2006, when a judge was considering Pritchett's application for a new trial, the prosecutor offered her a deal: If she dropped the appeal and pleaded guilty to a felony murder count, she would be released. Pritchett declined the offer. She won a new trial. Rather than remain incarcerated through prosecution appeals of the new trial order, which could take years, Pritchett accepted a time-served plea deal in which she did not have to admit guilt.  (Post-Gazette)  [12/06]