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July 15, 2017

Notable high-profile functionality of the dysfunctional Pennsylvania death penalty

Long-time readers surely recall some (of many) prior posts, including ones here and here, highlighting some (of many)  dysfunctional realities of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.  But this local article about horrible multiple murders getting national attention highlights how even a dysfunctional death penalty can still serve a significant function.  The article is headlined "Legal experts praise Bucks deal that led to murder confession," and here are excerpts:

The deal that spared Cosmo DiNardo the death penalty in exchange for a murder confession in a case that’s captivated the region and drawn national attention was lauded Friday by legal experts, who said the agreement was a swift and shrewd way to bring the gruesome case nearer to a close.

Cosmo DiNardo, 20, confessed to participating in the killings of four men. DiNardo also agreed to tell investigators where to find the bodies and lead them to an accomplice.  In exchange for the cooperation, his defense lawyer Paul Lang said, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty.

DiNardo’s four victims, young men from Bucks and Montgomery Counties, disappeared last week.  Their families’ fears were confirmed when human remains were discovered in a 12-foot grave on a farm owned by DiNardo’s parents.  On Friday, DiNardo was charged with murder and related offenses.  Authorities also arrested his cousin and alleged accomplice, Sean Kratz, 20, on the same charges.  And also Friday, they discovered the body of one of the missing men, Jimi Taro Patrick, 19, on the farm.  The remains of Dean A. Finocchiaro, 19; Thomas C. Meo, 21; and Mark R. Sturgis, 22, had been discovered elsewhere on the sprawling property Wednesday.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub on Friday credited DiNardo’s confession with implicating Kratz and leading investigators to Patrick’s body, which had been buried separately from the others.  “I’d like to think he wanted to help us get these boys home,” he said, describing the cooperation agreement with DiNardo as critical to solving the case.

In interviews Friday, several legal experts agreed.  “It was absolutely the right thing to do,” Jack McMahon, a former prosecutor who is now a prominent defense lawyer, said of the deal.  “I think both sides did the right thing.”  With evidence mounting in a case this serious, McMahon said, “the defense probably realized that the evidence against his client was pretty overwhelming.  He had only one chip to play, and he used it to leverage for a life sentence.”

Marc Bookman, a former public defender who is director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Center City, said the agreement had clear benefits for DiNardo and for prosecutors.  “In a case like this, there’s a give and take,” he said.  For the defense, Bookman said, “you’ve got four bodies.  Any defense lawyer is thinking, ‘There’s no real defense to the killing of four people.’ There are defenses to a murder case, but it’s difficult to conceive of a legitimate defense to four bodies buried 12 feet in the ground.”

The severity of the crime made it a clear candidate for a death penalty prosecution, legal experts agreed, giving the prosecution leverage and the defense reason to seek a deal.  “The defense is giving the prosecutor something compelling,” Bookman said.  “He said he would direct them to where the bodies are. You’ve got four grieving families who desperately want closure, however sad that closure might be.  And he’s asking for something in exchange.”

For prosecutors, the threat of life on death row — if not actual execution in a state with a moratorium on the death penalty — upon conviction proved persuasive.  “It’s good to have the death penalty for cases like this — whether you agree with it or not,” said former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, whose tenure was marked by an aggressive willingness to pursue the death penalty in murder cases.  “The prosecutor had a bargaining chip, and the defense attorney used it to bargain away [the possibility of] being on death row for 25 to 40 years.”...

The deal DiNardo’s lawyers reached with prosecutors spares the families of the four victims a painful trial and saves taxpayers the expense.  In addition, Abraham said, it saves “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of dollars spent on the appeals offered to all defendants convicted in capital cases.  Those often go on for decades.

Dennis J. Cogan, a former prosecutor and veteran defense lawyer, called the agreement a “win-win.” Without the confession, he said, the crime might have proved a “tough case” for prosecutors.  With the deal Weintraub struck with DiNardo’s lawyers, Cogan said, “they get the guy, they get the accomplice, and hopefully they bring closure for the families.”

July 15, 2017 at 12:47 PM | Permalink


One advantage of a lawyer over a pro se litigant is experience. Does this defense lawyer meet the first prong of the Strickland test by failing to inform the defendant that the chance of being executed in Pennsylvania is nil? The defendants may decide on the plea in accordance with their consciences, but not in accordance any empty threat by a really stupid prosecutor. I think there was inadequate representation here.

Did it prejudice the outcome? It did not.

If you like these serial murders, thank the lawyer profession. They kept alive, privileged, protected and empowered the serial killers instead of killing them at 14. No evolving standard of decency here, as a guy short of money for a drug deal, gets run over with a backhoe.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 15, 2017 6:14:08 PM

Once the identities of the legal authorities that protected these serial killers are known, they need to be driven from the state.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 15, 2017 11:17:37 PM

30 run-ins with Bensalem, PA police from age 14, for this serial killer. Murders were 100% the fault of the lawyer profession. he should not have been on the street. He was not functioning. Yet, the lawyer profession coddled, protected, and empowered him.


Posted by: David Behar | Jul 16, 2017 10:06:56 AM

When I heard the deal, my first thought was

Incompetent defense counsel.

The starting point for plea bargains, for a capital case, in Pa., is life with parole eligibility.

Only "volunteers" are executed in Pa, as all defense counsel and prosecutors in Pa know.

The death penalty is a totally empty threat, oterwise.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jul 16, 2017 11:59:27 AM

Can you come up with something even more disgusting as a rationale for executing people, DAB?

Posted by: anon | Jul 16, 2017 12:42:27 PM

Can you more fully explain, anon, what you think is "disgusting" about a plea that provides quick closure for the families of those murdered by these defendants? Do you consider the crimes here "disgusting" or only the way PA is trying to respond to them?

I am not trying to troll you, anon, but I am genuinely eager to understand why and how you find disgust in state case processing here in response to a mass murder.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 16, 2017 1:19:42 PM

Very bad news for all of you. In Italy (we are 60M) murders passed from 475 in 2015 to less than 400 in 2016.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Jul 16, 2017 2:54:11 PM

Hi, Claudio. Criminals are intimidated by the high likelihood of being tortured by the police. That is not even a crime in Italy.

Then you have an extra lively death penalty, calling it suicide in prison. I have advocated adopting the "Italian Model" of the death penalty in the USA.

You are a Euro trash hypocrite.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 17, 2017 12:40:19 AM

Yes, Anon. I have to second Doug. You have a dangling participle. Rewrite your comment. Use simple declarative sentences with subject, verb and predicate. To what is "disgusting" referring? Disgusting is an adjective. To what noun does it refer?

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 17, 2017 12:43:23 AM

Hey Ciccio !!! In Usa torture wasn't legal in Gitmo and everywhere ????

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Jul 17, 2017 6:39:08 AM

Hey Ciccio !!! In Usa torture wasn't legal in Gitmo and everywhere ????

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Jul 17, 2017 6:39:08 AM

No, Claudio. Gitmo prisoners lived 10 times better than where they came from. There was no torture. Just beating up the person, that is in Italy. No death penalty in Italy. It is not necessary. Your police beats up and kills people during the investigation. I have proposed adopting this great Italian Model in all the states. There is not even a policy statement against torture, let alone any law against it in Italy. I love the Italian criminal justice system.

I also love Italian inquisitorial judges, and have repeatedly argued we should have them in the USA.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 17, 2017 11:34:03 AM

There's something unseemly about a law used to extract guilty pleas when the threatened punishment is so unlikely to ever occur.

Posted by: justme | Jul 17, 2017 12:04:20 PM

DB is the classical nasty American, that who all the world likes to hate.

Posted by: Claudio Giusti | Jul 19, 2017 1:15:02 PM

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In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB