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Westmoreland DA gets district judge removed from Latrobe teen homicide case

Rich Cholodofsky
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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck gives a press conference at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in Greensburg on August 9, 2013.
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Devin Capasso

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said Monday he will not pursue a formal complaint with the state Judicial Conduct Board against a Latrobe district judge who he alleged in court was unfairly biased against local prosecutors.

Following a hearing on Peck’s allegations, Common Pleas Court President Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. last week removed District Judge Michael Mahady from presiding over a preliminary hearing for a 17-year Latrobe teen charged with fatally shooting a 15-year-old friend last month.

The ruling was the fourth time in the last several years that Mahady has been removed from a case at Peck’s urging.

“I think there is room for legitimate disagreement between judges and lawyers. That is what this was, a legal disagreement,” Peck said.

Mahady could not be reached for comment Monday. He did not participate in the hearing before McCormick on Friday.

Don Heagy, special courts administrator for the county, said no formal complaints have been filed with his office against Mahady, and no other cases have been transferred from his jurisdiction.

The most recent flap between Peck and Mahady involves the case against 17-year-old Andrew Braddy, who was charged with criminal homicide in the Aug. 29 shooting death of Devin Capasso, 15, at a Main Street apartment in Latrobe.

According to court records, Braddy told police he made sure a Glock pistol was loaded, pointed the gun at Capasso and fired one round that struck the teen in the torso, before fleeing.

Peck said county detectives went to Mahady the next day to file the complaint against Braddy. But Mahady refused to sign off, saying a general criminal homicide count was not a proper offense with which the prosecution could proceed, court records show.

His refusal prompted detectives to wait a few hours to present the case at night court before on-duty District Judge Joseph DeMarchis of Jeannette.

But because the alleged shooting occurred in Latrobe, Mahady still had jurisdiction to hear the preliminary hearing, which had been scheduled for Monday. So Peck went to court to have Mahady removed from the case.

“We did so to ensure fairness and impartiality. There was some doubt in my mind that if he heard the preliminary hearing, that wouldn’t be the case,” Peck said.

McCormick assigned DeMarchis to preside over the preliminary hearing, which is rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 18.

The Braddy ruling was the fourth time Mahady has been removed as the presiding magistrate after ruling against county prosecutors.

In 2014, Mahady dismissed murder charges against a Laurel Mountain Borough man accused of bludgeoning his girlfriend to death. Mahady ruled that the case against Greg Randall, 60, was speculative, a decision that ultimately led to Peck refilling the charge a few months later before another district judge whom McCormick assigned the case.

The first-degree murder case against Randall is pending.

In September 2016, a charge of first-degree murder against Zachary McGrath , 22, of Latrobe was held for trial by District Judge Charles Conway seven months after Mahady dismissed the same charge following a hearing in February 2016. McGrath’s case is pending.

Peck said Mahady was removed as the presiding magistrate in vandalism cases against several men in Latrobe who slashed school bus tires. Mahady refused to approve the criminal charges, which eventually were re-filed before another magistrate, Peck said.

The defendants in those cases were admitted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for first-time, nonviolent offenders, Peck said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]

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