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.