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Man wrongfully convicted of murder seeks formal dismissal

A Latrobe man who served 25 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a pair of homicides was freed on appeal in September 2011 after a federal court overturn the conviction. Now seeking to ensure that he does not have to face trial on the homicides again, the man and his attorney are asking a western Pennsylvania court to formally dismiss the charges against him.

The man, who moved out of state after his release from prison, was arrested in 1982 after a police informant claimed that he and another man were responsible for the deaths of two other men in rural Fayette County in 1977. Based largely on this informant's claims, prosecutors charged the Latrobe man and his supposed accomplice with murder. It took two trials, but the men were convicted in 1986 and sentenced to life in prison.

Protesting his innocence, the man began a series of appeals. He argued that the informant was unreliable and that his account of what happened changed several times. The informant told police that he had driven the defendants to the home where the homicides occurred, but it was later revealed that the informant was out of state at the time of the deaths and that he did not own the car he supposedly drove them in until six months later.

Prosecutors apparently attempted to bolster their dubious case against the defendant by withholding evidence. Writing in the final appeal that led to the defendant's freedom, the federal appeals court said that the prosecution deleted a paragraph of the informant's written statement before giving it to the man's defense attorney and that a tape recording of the statement mysteriously "vanished."

Though the man is now out of prison, he does not want the specter of a possible retrial hanging over his head. His attorney filed a motion in Fayette County court on Feb. 27 asking the court to formally dismiss the murder charges. The motion notes that the federal appellate court ordered prosecutors to bring new charges within 120 days of the overturned dismissal, which did not happen.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Lawyer wants murder charges formally dismissed," Liz Zemba, Feb. 28, 2013

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