By Jonathan Weaver
One of the four local men charged with the death of a Chicora man on St. Patrick’s Day 2013 pleaded guilty to two of the six charges filed against him in open court Thursday.
Dennis Rosenberger – who at the time of the incident lived in Kittanning Borough, but now resides with family in Ford City while on house arrest – pled guilty before President Judge Kenneth Valasek to single counts of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in the death of James Sullivan outside of the Wick City Saloon near Montieth Street in Kittanning Borough.
By virtue of the plea agreement, the other four charges levied against Rosenberger – including felony first-degree criminal homicide – have been waived and Rosenberger will not have to stand trial later this week.
Rosenberger, now 28 – was arrested days after the incident.
Rosenberger’s attorney Gregory W. Swank explained to the Kittanning Paper outside of the Armstrong County Courthouse that he and his client agreed to the plea agreement after multiple discussions with the District Attorney’s office since the agreement was “fair and appropriate.”
“Mr. Rosenberger had made statements to the police that he in fact did strike Mr. Sullivan – gave him a single blow to the head -, that he acknowledged to police that that blow to the head caused Mr. Sullivan to lose consciousness and fall to the ground. In addition, there were numerous witnesses who would’ve been able to testify that that is in fact what happened, so we felt there was no question the Commonwealth could prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that an aggravated assault had occurred, and that Mr. Rosenberger was the one who committed the aggravated assault,” Swank said.
In the courtroom, Assistant District Attorney Chase McClister read from court documents that Rosenberger is charged with punching Sullivan in the face when he was not expecting it, which knocked Sullivan backward against the pavement, fracturing his skull and knocking him unconscious.
“This contributed to and in part caused the death of Mr. Sullivan,” McClister said.
While that punch alone did not result in Sullivan’s immediate death, Swank acknowledged that forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht determined during an autopsy that injuries caused by the impact to the head, if not treated, could have alone caused Sullivan’s death.
Attorney Swank said he has been able to talk about the offense and visit the crime scene with Rosenberger – who cannot read -, as well as what he would be admitting to and what he should expect to be sentenced to.
Rosenberger’s illiteracy led Judge Valask to suspend accepting the plea agreement as to explain the impact and a plea questionnaire Rosenberger signed.
“Did you understand everything?,” Judge Valasek asked.
“No,” Rosenberger replied.
“Was there any particular part you didn’t understand?,” Judge Valasek asked.
“Any of it,” Rosenberger replied.
Judge Valasek heard 10 separate pleas for crimes such as theft and driving offenses before revisiting Rosenberger’s plea about an hour-and-a-half later as the clock tolled 11AM.
By pleading guilty to both charges, Rosenberger could be sentenced to a total of 25 years in the Armstrong County Jail – 20 years for the felony aggravated assault alone – and to pay $35,000 in fines or both.
But, Rosenberger should not be expected to serve that amount of time, Swank explained.
“However, Mr. Rosenberger has no appreciable criminal history – we believe he has a prior record score of zero – which would call for a sentence within the sentencing guidelines of the aggravated assault charge and anywhere between 36 and 42 months (of incarceration). We would expect the judge to sentence within the guidelines,” Swank said.
Rosenberger will be sentenced September 23.
District Attorney Scott Andreassi was not available for comment before the holiday weekend.
Swank did not consult with the other three defendants charged in the incident– including Keith Brison of Kittanning and Anthony Bove and Otilio Cosme – both of Ford City – before the plea was made Thursday.