Philly Judge Reprimands DA after Prosecutor Integrity Unit Agrees to Vacate Conviction 

The Court of Common Pleas at the Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via wikipedia

By Rena Abdusalam

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Common Pleas Court Judge Scott DiClaudio last week rebuked Assistant District Attorney Michael Garmisa, and publicly reprimanded the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office over its management of India Spellman’s murder appeal, according to an account in the Philadelphia Inquirer (PI).

Earlier this month, Spellman was freed from prison after DiClaudio authorized the prosecutor’s petition to vacate her conviction.

But Judge DiClaudio complained about how Spellman’s case was conducted, accusing the prosecutor’s office of being “cavalier” in its reinvestigation and frequently firing insults at Garmisa for more than an hour.

Garmisa—who oversees the DA’s conviction integrity unit that investigates questionable convictions—said some of DiClaudio’s questions were irrelevant.

He also suggested that the hearing itself was inappropriate, as it appeared to have no other intention and was conducted in front of a courtroom of spectators unconnected to the case.

However, the judge was not swayed, said the PI.

“Maybe you’re just not sharp enough” to understand a question, DiClaudio said. He called for a deputy sheriff to the hearing at one point, saying he would be pleased to determine if Garmisa’s unwillingness to answer would result in contempt of court, according to the PI news coverage.

Last year, prosecutors filed paperwork asking the judge to overturn the conviction of Spellman, who had been accused of fatally shooting Navy veteran George “Bud” Greaves outside his Cedarbrook home in 2010.

The prosecutors stated key evidence had been withheld from her trial attorneys at the time. They also supported Spellman’s alibi of using Facebook and talking on the phone when the crime was committed, which was noted by Spellman’s appellate lawyer, Todd Mosser.

Nevertheless, DiClaudio suggested that prosecutors investigated the alibi very little, and stated he had been the one discovering ways to test its validity.

He questioned Garmisa about the steps the district attorney’s office took during their investigation and appeared to have little patience when Garmisa answered beyond a simple reply,” said the PI.

“May I finish answering?” Garmisa asked at one occurrence, to which Judge DiClaudio replied, “No,” per the PI.

Stating that he didn’t find Spellman’s alibi reliable, DiClaudio also called the office’s reinvestigation “severely lacking” and “cavalier.”

He was also seen to rebuke DA Garmisa’s professional history, asking if Garmisa, who was a defense attorney before joining the DA’s office, had prosecuted a jury trial before.

Additionally, the judge brought up an issue that had occurred at a hearing earlier this month.

Moments before DiClaudio was preparing to decide a result on the prosecutor appeal, Garmisa gave the judge a letter from one of Greaves’ relatives during that proceeding. Instead of reading the letter, DiClaudio crumpled and dropped it behind him.

However, the PI reported, the judge addressed during the admonishing that the letter was unsigned and dateless, adding he ignored it because it had “no evidentiary value” or affected his overall decision.

The judge also asked if Garmisa had talked to the relative who wrote the letter, and as Garmisa was trying to explain, DiClaudio cut him off, and said, “I’ll ask it slower,” before repeating the inquiry.

Judge DiClaudio said DA Garmisa had needlessly delayed the ruling on Spellman’s appeal by explaining events the DA gave notable and time-costly attention to in court.

The judge also proclaimed that the prosecutors took more time to look over the case and come to a conclusion than he did.

With barely any warning, the judge decided he was done, saying “you’re excused” to Garmisa before finishing the hearing and walking off the bench.

Ultimately, DiClaudio did not discipline Garmisa and the DA’s office, according to the PI’s news report.

The hearing had no overall impact on Spellman’s case, as the judge already agreed to the appeal and with the prosecutors denying to retry Spellman due to her being “likely innocent.”

“Still, the proceeding was another example of the tense relationship between District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office and some judges — including DiClaudio, who Krasner unsuccessfully tried to disqualify from hearing criminal cases several years ago,” wrote Chris Palmer, contributing writer of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Palmer added, “If nothing else, Thursday’s quarrel could heighten animosity between two key players in the city’s criminal justice system: Garmisa, who supervises a unit dedicated to overturning problematic convictions, and DiClaudio, the judge who is assigned to rule on many of those efforts.”

About The Author

Rena is a junior at Davis Senior High School and is currently exploring her interest in the criminal justice system. After high school, she plans to attend college and continue to pursue a career in law.

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