Criminal Tries to Get Out of Sentence

Fraudster Fails to Obtain Post Conviction Relief

Post 4783

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Robert Sitler appealed from the order that dismissed his petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”). A jury found him guilty of homicide by vehicle and the trial court, sitting without a jury.

In Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania v. Robert Sitler, No. 2946 EDA 2022, J-S20044-23, Superior Court of Pennsylvania (April 11, 2024) the appellate court refused to provide relief for Sitler.

BACKGROUND

On November 12, 2012, just before 9 p.m., Sitler was driving his truck along a two-lane road with a center turning lane. His girlfriend, Denise Dinnocenti, and her children were passengers in the truck. Sitler was driving Dinnocenti to a dance rehearsal, which started at 9 p.m.

Regina Qawasmy was driving in front of Sitler, who was following very closely behind her. As she prepared to turn right, she noticed a young man, later identified as 16-year-old Timothy Paciello, standing in the center lane waiting to cross the street. Prior to turning, Qawasmy began to decrease her speed. Suddenly, Qawasmy heard the revving of an engine and then saw a flash, which she later learned was Paciello flying into the air.

According to Dinnocenti, Sitler, while driving behind Qawasmy, sped around Qawasmy on the left and into the center lane, going 50 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone. Sitler did not see Paciello in the lane and as a result, struck him with his truck.

After striking Paciello, Sitler pulled into a nearby parking lot. He handed his keys over to Dinnocenti and instructed her and her children to tell the police that she was driving. When police arrived, Dinnocenti did as Sitler had said and told them that she was driving. At the scene and in a later written statement, Sitler likewise claimed that Dinnocenti was driving. The fraud failed because the police later recovered surveillance footage from the Sunoco gas station across the street from the accident. The footage showed Paciello walking into the center lane and then out of sight of the video. A few moments later, Sitler’s truck is seen speeding down the center lane. Officer Matthew Meitzler informed Dinnocenti that there was footage of the accident. Eventually, both Dinnocenti and Sitler admitted that he was driving the vehicle.

The case then proceeded to a three-day trial, after which Sitler was convicted. He was sentenced to an aggregate term of eight and one-half to seventeen years’ incarceration. In addition, on the first day of trial, Sitler entered an open guilty plea to insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, false reports to law enforcement and other charges relating to the false statements about who was driving. At trial the court informed the jury about his prior vehicular manslaughter conviction.

ANALYSIS

Sitler claimed that that the lower court erred by denying relief on his claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not objecting to the jury instruction offered by the lower court prior to admission of his prior manslaughter conviction. He asserts that trial counsel consulted with an accident reconstruction expert, but he “r[a]n out of funds” by the time of trial and was unable to afford the services of the rebuttal witness.

The PCRA court properly denied Sitler’s claim for lack of prejudice because Sitler failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that a request for funds to retain an accident reconstruction expert as a rebuttal witness would have changed the result of his trial. That proffer may have been sufficient for proving that trial counsel’s failure to request indigent funding deprived him of a rebuttal witness, but it did nothing to advance Appellant’s burden to demonstrate that he was prejudiced by trial counsel’s failure to pursue funds for an expert rebuttal witness.

The appellate court agreed with the PCRA court that there was overwhelming evidence of Appellant’s guilt and that Appellant was unable to show prejudice by demonstrating that a successful petition for rebuttal expert funds would have resulted in a different trial verdict.

For the foregoing reasons, the appellate court concluded that the PCRA court did not err or abuse its discretion in dismissing Appellant’s post-conviction petition without a hearing.

ZALMA OPINION

Mr. Sitler caused the death of a teenager by driving around a car ahead of him, struck and killed a teenaged pedestrian, caused his girlfriend to lie to the police about who was driving and admitted to insurance fraud and multiple other crimes relating to the manslaughter only to have a jury convict him of the death of the teenager. He tried to reduce his sentence with claims of a poor defense lawyer and lack of funds. The court didn’t buy his arguments and he will, thankfully for pedestrians everywhere, stay in jail.

(c) 2024 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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