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Category: Armstrong County Court House

Plea Agreement Accepted in 2013 Criminal Homicide Case

Otilio Cosme of Ford City plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter as part of a plea agreement Thursday afternoon. Dennis Rosenberger of Kittanning plead guilty during a plea agreement in early July that also waived felony charges and the need for trial.

by Jonathan Weaver

Two of the men accused of criminal homicide in the death of James Sullivan in March 2013 have now accepted plea agreements to a lesser charge.
Thursday afternoon, Otilio Cosme of Ford City pled guilty to first-degree misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter before Judge James Panchik in the Armstrong County Courthouse in Kittanning Borough.
In exchange for pleading guilty to first-degree misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter due to his alleged actions March 17, 2013 at the Wick City Saloon along Montieth Street in Kittanning Borough, Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Charlton said that charges – including first-degree felony criminal homicide and aggravated assault – will be dropped.
No sentencing recommendation was made, but Armstrong County would recommend credit for nearly two months of time served in jail but the final decision will be made by the presiding judge.
District Attorney Scott Andreassi stood behind the plea agreement made.
“I think when you look at the facts of the case, when you look at the evidence the Commonwealth had, when you assess the witnesses that we were prepared to present, at the end of the day, the involuntary manslaughter was the correct charge in this case,” Andreassi said.
Charlton said what is considered an Anders Plea was accepted, but Cosme entered it not an admission of guilt but in his best interests.
“We rarely enter into these kinds of pleas,” Charlton said in court.
Judge Panchik hesitantly accepted the plea agreement due to not knowing if Cosme understood the consequences of his guilty plea rather than being presumed innocent at trial. Cosme said he has been threatened due to the alleged actions St. Patrick’s Day 2013.
“I don’t believe I can have a fair trial, sir,” Cosme said. “Because of the racism I’ve encountered and the threats that have been made.
“I’m accepting this plea because all of the other charges were taken off the table.”

Cosme later told Judge Panchik that he was not forced or threatened to plead guilty before Thursday’s plea.
Cosme was represented by Attorney Anthony Urti of Geary and Loperfito, LLC of Vandergrift. Urti – who has represented Cosme for about a year since being appointed by the court – said he and his client have discussed the details and ramifications of the plea “on multiple occasions.”
Urti said a motion was filed to change venue before and was not upheld.
Cosme and Urti said they are aware of the evidence secured against him through the Pennsylvania State Police investigation and have been told of the evidence found by Cosme’s own court-appointed criminal investigator.
If found guilty of the charge, Cosme could have been sentenced to five years in the Armstrong County Jail or paid $10,000 in fines or both if not for the plea agreement.
If Cosme did not plead guilty Thursday, jury selection would have taken place Monday morning. Prosecutors during a trial would have had to prove Cosme acted without desire to cause harm but with negligence.
Members of Sullivan’s family were in the courtroom for the plea. The family members present accepted the plea made, will complete a victim-impact statement prior to the October sentencing and be offered a chance to testify.

Last month, Dennis Rosenberger – originally of Kittanning – also accepted a plea agreement through the County District Attorney’s office and pled guilty before President Judge Kenneth Valasek to single counts of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.  By virtue of the plea agreement, the other four charges levied against Rosenberger – including felony first-degree criminal homicide – were also waived and Rosenberger will not have to stand trial.

Rosenberger’s sentencing is scheduled in September.

Former Adrian Fugitive Found Guilty of PFA Violation

Chester E. Croyle, Jr.

By Jonathan Weaver

An Adrian man that resisted arrest by the Armstrong County Sheriff’s Department and Pennsylvania State Police troopers in May for violating his Protection from Abuse (PFA) order was sentenced to serve additional jail time earlier this week.

Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas Judge James Panchik found Chester E. Croyle, Jr. – 43 of Adrian – guilty after trial Monday morning and sentenced Croyle, Jr. to six months of incarceration in the Armstrong County Jail.

According to the original indirect criminal contempt complaint filed by Kittanning Borough Police, Croyle, Jr. – who formerly lived along Old Reesdale Road in Adrian – called the complainant multiple times in March, a violation of his PFA order.

In Judge Panchik’s order, he said he will consider enrollment in the Domestic Abuse Counseling Center program and any probationary plan would be subject to that program’s completion.

Trial is pending for Croyle, Jr. on resisting arrest and disorderly conduct from the May standoff, which lasted about nine hours and caused local deputies to call on the State Police Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) for assistance – who threw tear gas in the trailer Croyle, Jr. would not come out of.

Sheriff Bill Rupert said the intention at that time – and through the entire standoff – was to capture Croyle “peacefully.”

Both Johns Road and Spring Run Road were closed to traffic. School bus traffic for Armstrong School District students was also detoured, with students instead being transported to the Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department along Reesedale Road.

Croyle, Jr. was already in the county jail located in Rayburn Township due to state police charges from early-2013. According to the Pennsylvania State Police Public Information Release and Croyle, Jr’s criminal docket, Croyle, Jr. was taken into custody and incarcerated on the bench warrant, a mental health warrant and a warrant for two counts of suspected felony rape of a child, two counts of felony statutory sexual assault to an individual 11 years of age or older, endangering the welfare of children and two counts of misdemeanor indecent assault during an alleged January 1, 2013 incident.

Online court documents show the bench warrant for the PFA violation was ordered March 25 by Armstrong County President Judge Kenneth Valasek.

Rosenberger Pleads Guilty in Crimes Leading to St. Patrick’s Day Homicide

Dennis Rosenberger of Ford City (shown via his 2013 jail inmate photo) plead guilty last week to crimes ultimately leading to the March 17, 2013 death of Chicora’s James Sullivan outside the Wick City Saloon in Kittanning Borough.

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.