Surrounded by cardboard silhouettes of domestic violence victims and whirring cameras, Beginning Over Foundation's Heidi Markow was the center of attention yesterday, calling on both Governor Rendell and the Attorney General to take over the wife-beating prosecution of Upper Mount Bethel's Jeffrey Poliskiewicz. Poliskiewicz is scheduled to plead guilty today to seven of eight charges filed as the result of an alleged 2008 assault on his wife. A felony assault charge will be withdrawn, but Poliskiewicz will plead to simple assault, terroristic threats, reckless endangerment, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, stalking and harassment.
That's not good enough for Markow or victim Melissa McShane, who told me during yesterday's news conference that she would only be satisfied by a 43 year sentence. Neither McShane nor Markow seems to understand that sentencing is a judicial, not prosecutorial, function. It's unlikely that a sentence like that would be imposed, even if Poliskiewicz admitted everything. And after yesterday's dog and pony show orchestrated by Markow, I'd be surprised if Poliskiewicz pleads guilty to anything. You see, Defendants have advocates, too, and Markow's stunt may have poisoned would would have been a good result for the Commonwealth and Melissa, the victim of this assault.
Let me give you some background. Poliskiewicz is clearly a wife beater who has victimized all three of his past wives. But he comes into this plea agreement with practically no record of prior offenses, partly because the nature of domestic violence is such that victims are unwilling to pursue criminal charges.
Poliskiewicz undeniably assaulted his first wife, but those charges never went anywhere. When he assaulted his second wife, she agreed to allow him to participate in ARD, a special program for first time offenders in which charges are dropped after a successful probationary period.
This brings us to Poliskiewicz's third wife, Melissa McShane. It's been a very stormy relationship.
February 24 (2008): Two state troopers responded to a domestic violence call placed by Melissa's daughter. At that time, Melissa was reluctant to pursue any prosecution, noting she had only been married for two months and that her husband had never been violent before this incident. Troopers told her about the PFA (protection-from-abuse) process, different women's resources she could use and provided her with a Victim/Witness assistance guide. They also chargedd her husband with summary harassment, but Melissa never appeared at the hearing.
February 28: Three troopers responded to another call from Melissa's daughter. This time the couple was interviewed separately. Both indicated their argument was strictly verbal, and the state police saw no signs of physical abuse. Melissa told them she was leaving to stay with a relative.
February 29: Poliskiewicz and Melissa file dueling PFAs against each other. Poliskiewicz claims Melissa is taking things from his house, and is advised by state police to call his lawyer.
March 17: Melissa asks the Court, in a handwritten letter, to dismiss the PFA. She claims things "get blown out of proportion and we are very sorry to get the courts involved." A copy of this letter is below.
April 2: Alleged assault. There is no report of this incident to any police officer.
April 11: Melissa's dad asks troopers to check on his daughter, and two troopers arrive at an empty house. They learn that Melissa was at the courthouse, and had obtained a PFA based on the April 2 assault. She makes no call to the state police to report she was assaulted and makes no request for police assistance.
April 11: Troopers call Melissa's cell phone to see if she is alright. She returns their call and makes no report of an assault nor does she request to see a trooper.
April 12: Ten days after the assault, Melissa seeks medical treatment. She is ex-rayed and no fractures are diagnosed. She is advised to apply ice to evident soft tissue injuries.
April 12: Melissa calls to report Poliskiewicz driving an ATV through the property in violation of the PFA. She also reports finding weapons that Poliskiewicz failed to surrender to Deputy Sheriffs after a PFA was filed against him. Troopers seize the weapons. They seize Poliskiewicz, too, and turn him over to deputy sheriffs for contempt charges.
January '09: Domestic violence advocate Heidi Markow gets involved. She and Melissa meet with Morganelli concerning the April 2 assault, and he agrees to file charges. Morganelli describes Poliskiewicz as a "serial abuser" who preyed on women at match.com. Poliskiewicz is arrested and imprisoned because he's unable to post $300 thousand bail. Morganelli assigns his Domestic Violence Unit, which he established in 1998, to handle the prosecution.
February 9: Domestic Violence Advocate Heidi Markow issues a news release claiming that police "repeatedly ignored" Melissa's claims of abuse. Markow goes on to claim "police aren't talking even though their silence is a disservice to [Melissa] and the public at large." She commends DA Morganelli.
February 24: Poliskiewicz is depicted as an "online predator" in an NBC10 report entitled "Dark Side of Looking for Love on the Internet." He met his third wife at match.com.
March 23: Markow claims, in a domestic violence blog, that state police reacted to Melissa's story "with indifference -- and inaction."
Yesterday, instead of blaming police, Markow was wagging her finger at Morganelli for ignoring the evidence in a case that he himself filed. Domestic violence do-gooders were also blasting me, on this very blog, for suggesting that Markow seemed to be more interested in whipping up a lynch mob than obtaining justice.
Here's what Markow has really done. First, she has falsely accused Pennsylvania state troopers of indifference and inaction when it's quite clear they were very responsive. Second, she has substituted her own inexperienced judgment for that of professional prosecutors whose job is to achieve justice, not vengeance. Third, she has proved to be quite adept at throwing around irresponsible accusations that leads to headlines in which she gets some notoriety. Fourth, she may have destroyed whatever plea agreement existed between prosecutors and Poliskiewicz, doing a disservice to the very victims she supposedly is trying to help.
Afternoon Update: The Express Times' Sarah Cassi reports that DA John Morganelli went ahead with the plea deal condemned yesterday by domestic violence victim advocate Heidi Markow. Today, she incredibly claims "We're getting somewhere."