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Change of Attorney Slows Desisti Proceedings


By Rick Hiduk

During a brief pretrial conference concerning the Commonwealth vs. John Joseph Desisti case, Atty. Kelley Nelson, who had served as an assistant on the case to lead attorney John Flannery, announced via telephone that the state Office of the Attorney General was assigning a new prosecuting attorney as of Nov. 1, that being Atty. Joe McGettigan.

After questioning both Nelson and defense attorney Arthur Donato as to how soon their teams would be ready for a trial, Judge Maureen T. Beirne determined that scheduling a second pretrial conference for 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22, would be in the best interest of both parties. Flannery is reportedly on medical leave.

While Donato suggested that the defense team could be adequately prepared within 30 days, Nelson told Beirne that, given the change in lead attorneys, her team would likely require additional time to prepare for a tentative January 2012 trial, which will include responding to a bill of particulars issued by Beirne after a hearing held in July.

“He’s going to have to dig in fast,” Beirne said of McGettigan, in reference to her desire to avoid falling too far behind and possibly being faced with “Rule 600” issues, which maintain that the proceedings be kept within a reasonable window of time from Desisti’s December 2010 arrest date. “I’d like to get this scheduled,” Beirne stated.

Donato acknowledged Beirne’s suggestion of Jan. 9 as a target date to begin the trial, adding that, because the defense team had previously moved for a continuance of the preliminary hearing, the timeframe had been automatically extended by 30 days. Nelson related to Beirne that she also believes that a Jan. 9 start date was reasonable and would advise McGettigan of the decision.

When asked how long each side thought the impending trial might last, Donato replied that five to seven days after jury selection should be sufficient. Nelson first tried to defer any estimate of time to the, as of that day, unnamed new attorney but quickly proposed that the prosecutors would likely need a week or more to adequately present their case against Desisti, who has been charged with the 2006 killings of David and Carol Keeffe.

Although Nelson did not disclose the name of the new attorney during the teleconference, Donato indicated that he knew who would be taking Flannery’s place and was confident that McGettigan was up to the task of quickly acquainting himself with the proceedings and quickly bringing his prosecuting team up to speed. Both Nelson and Donato tabled their responses to questions by Beirne about jury qualification forms and questionnaires to the Nov. 22 pretrial conference.

Donato related to Beirne that some additional issues have arisen since the July hearing, but he expects to be able to work them out with the new attorney prior to the next event. “Miss Nelson and I have been taking steps to resolve them,” Donato stated, without disclosing any additional details.

According to information posted about McGettigan online, he served in the homicide unit of the U.S. District Attorney’s eastern Pennsylvania office from 1982 to 1993 and returned to the office in January 2010 to accept an appointment as first assistant. He has also served as first assistant in the Delaware County District Attorney’s office, where he was part of the team that successfully prosecuted John DuPont for murder.


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