Judge Recuses Self in '83 Hitchhiker Murder Hearing

Sunday, Aug 11, 2013  |  Updated 2:04 PM EDT
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Judge Recuses Self in '83 Hitchhiker Murder

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A western Pennsylvania judge has recused herself from a resentencing hearing in the western Pennsylvania murder of a hitchhiker three decades ago.

Fifty-seven-year-old Scott Blystone of Fairchance has been on death row since his conviction in the 1983 murder of Dalton Smithburger Jr.

Authorities in Fayette County said Blystone shot Smithburger six times in the head for $13 in gas money.

A federal appeals court last year granted him a new sentencing hearing, saying his attorney should have called mental health specialists who might have convinced jurors to sentence him to life.

Judge Nancy Vernon filed notice Friday that she will recuse herself from the resentencing proceedings because defense attorneys have alleged misconduct by prosecutors who now serve as senior judges.

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Blystone's attorneys first alleged possible misconduct in 2011 after a federal appeals court reversed the conviction of David Munchinski, who spent more than 20 years in prison after his conviction in a 1977 double homicide. Munchinski was freed after the appeals court said his Fayette County conviction was tainted by evidence tampering and ``outrageous misconduct'' on the part of prosecutors.

A state judge in June dismissed the two homicide charges and barred prosecutor from refiling them against Munchinski, whose attorney has vowed a federal civil rights suit against the county and the state.
 

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