|DA John Morganelli|
The previous Grand Jury, first empaneled on March 29, 2012, worked on 30 different investigations during its two-year life span. "This, by far, was the most work done by grand juries that I have empaneled as District Attorney," he noted. He filed a termination report on April 16, at the same time he announced his intention to form a new Grand Jury.
Grand juries fell out of favor during the '60s, according to Morganelli, when rules were relaxed to allow prosecutors to file charges independently, without these charging bodies, through what is known as a criminal information.
But grand juries remain important, insists Morganelli.
"The Grand Jury represents one of the oldest tools utilized by prosecutors to investigate matters of public concern. As everyone knows, the Grand Jury has the power to compel testimony, offer immunity and obtain any and all records without probable cause."
The 1999-2000 Grand Jury
Morganelli was unable to convene a Grand Jury during his fist seven years in office, he explained, because he needed more full-time staff. Finally, in 1999, he had enough staff to justify a Grand Jury for unsolved homicides. That resulted in the successful prosecution of James McBride, who is serving a life sentence for the 1984 murder of his wife. It also resulted in a second-degree murder conviction of Joseph Strohl for the 1986 beating death of his North Catasauqua. The Grand Jury helped prosecutor Bob Eyer, now the Chief Public Defender, build a circumstantial case.
The 2010 Grand Jury
A second Grand Jury, convened in 2010, heard evidence in 14 different investigations, and solved three more old homicides. It focused a great deal of its work on the 1979 murder of Holly Branagan, a Freedom High School Senior who was found stabbed to death in her Bethlehem home. Thirty-one witnesses testified. Morganelli is hopeful that Bethlehem police may have sufficient evidence to file charges in the future, but the case is still open.
That Grand Jury also expanded its scope beyond homicide and into more complicated, white collar crimes. Its work resulted in the successful prosecution of the principals of Municipal Energy Managers, who bilked Bethlehem Township out of $832,000 in a streetlight scam.
The 2012 Grand Jury
This Grand Jury investigated the following matters:
- Conspiracy to Commit Homicide charges against Franklin Barndt for the 2009 killing of Miguel Aponte at the Easton Cafe.
- The successful prosecution of former Assistant Chief Public Defender Anthony Martino, who stole in excess of $200,000 from private clients.
- The successful prosecution of Shawnta Carmon, who conned philanthropist Linnie Fowler out of more than $1 million.
- Theft charges against investment advisor Richard Freer, who is accused of bilking clients out of more than $10 million.
- Nonprofit mismanagement at the National Museum of Industrial History, with finding forwarded to the state Attorney General.