Westmoreland County prosecutors want more information about blood and DNA evidence found at the scene of a New Kensington rape before deciding whether to retry a man imprisoned nearly 28 years for the sexual assault.
A judge freed John Kunco, 52, formerly of Harrison, Allegheny County, on May 23 and ordered a new trial after vacating his 1991 rape conviction . A jury convicted Kunco of savagely raping a 55-year-old woman in her apartment the year before.
Kunco, who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to 45 to 90 years in prison.
Prosecutors have until late August to decide whether to pursue another trial or appeal the ruling that vacated his conviction.
Assistant district attorneys Barbara Jollie and Jim Hopson on Tuesday asked for a hearing to clarify the nature of blood and DNA evidence that Kunco’s lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project contend prove he did not commit the crime.
Defense testing found Kunco was not a source of blood or DNA deposited on a blanket recovered at the scene.
Should it be proven that the blood and DNA came from a male, it could affirm that someone other than Kunco was present at the rape, Hopson said.
No evidence was presented at last month’s hearing, although the defense previously had submitted detailed testing results of the blood and DNA — materials they contended were from an unidentified male. That finding is evidence that should be certified through testimony, according to the prosecution.
Scientists who performed the tests for the defense have refused to cooperate with prosecutors, Hopson said.
“The commonwealth contends that the record must be reopened and testimony taken to address that issue,” prosecutors wrote.
The defense has long argued that Kunco’s conviction was based on discredited science that linked him to healed bite marks found on the victim. Prosecutors said the victim was blindfolded during the attack but that she identified Kunco as her rapist by his distinctive lisp.
When the case was originally prosecuted, DNA evidence was not part of the investigation. Subsequent tests of a frayed electrical cord used in the attack and a blanket revealed blood and DNA evidence that could be used to acquit Kunco, the defense contends.
Innocence Project attorney Karen Thompson said it is clear that Kunco is not guilty of the rape, citing the physical evidence as well as an alibi that suggested he was not at the rape scene.
“This is a puzzling effort to undermine the (dismissal) of Mr. Kunco’s conviction, but it is better late than never that the commonwealth has become interested in legitimate forensic sciences,” Thompson wrote in an email Tuesday.
In vacating Kunco’s conviction, Common Pleas Judge Christopher Feliciani said the evidence to support that finding was “overwhelming.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]