WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered prosecutors to retry or free a Pennsylvania prisoner convicted 30 years ago of killing a man at a veterinarian hospital with his cat.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Christopher Conner in Harrisburg ruled Tuesday that Tyrone Moore should be retried within 90 days or released.
The judge said Moore's trial lawyers were "constitutionally deficient." He cited discrepancies in witness testimony and said the defense should have countered the testimony of a co-defendant who had reached a plea agreement.
"The court further finds that these deficiencies prejudiced Moore so substantially as to greatly undermine the court's confidence in the state court verdict," Connor wrote.
Prosecutors said Nicholas Romanchick, 31, and his wife had taken their cat to the Forty Fort Animal Hospital in Luzerne County in October 1982 when two armed men entered the clinic and one man shot Romanchick. Both men fled with a purse. Romanchick died 13 days later.
Moore, now 60, was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death plus 20 to 40 years for robbery and conspiracy, but a judge later vacated the death sentence, calling defense attorneys ineffective. Moore was resentenced to life without parole.
At his trial, Moore, who is from Philadelphia, denied having been in the area at the time of Romanchick's slaying.
District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis said Wednesday she hasn't decided whether to retry Moore or appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Conner acknowledged that retrying Moore would present many problems, especially since many witnesses have died. But he said "justice compels" his decision.