DeSisti Case Takes Bizarre Twists And Turns
It has been nearly three months since John Joseph DeSisti was formally arraigned in the Bradford County Court of Common Pleas on March 14 for the 2006 murders of David and Carol Keeffe. But, during this past week, his case has seemingly taken a new direction almost daily in advance of a scheduled “status conference” hearing on Friday, June 10, in Courtroom No. 2 before Judge Maureen T. Beirne.
Documents released by the Bradford County Prothonotary Office over the weekend revealed that conversations between DeSisti and his wife, Nancy DeSisti, were regularly recorded and that their conversations between February and April indicated a vengeful and threatening tone concerning prosecutors before the trial even gets under way.
During a grand jury hearing held on April 27, several segments of the recordings, which are routinely obtained and filed in situations of incarceration, were played out loud as prosecutors asked Nancy DeSisti to answer to the prosecutors’ charges that she and John DeSisti were plotting to get even and bring harm to those involved in the case against him.
In a Feb. 14 conversation recorded at the Bradford County Correctional Facility, John DeSisti brings up the name of Jeffrey Sredenschek, the state trooper originally appointed as the primary investigative officer in the murder investigation. “Sredenschek. Remember that name,” John says to Nancy. “I remember him very vividly,” Nancy assures him. “I want to tell Johnny (a reference to their son) about him,” John DeSisti asserts. “All right,” Nancy replies.
In a conversation dated March 11, in which the two can be heard discussing John’s upcoming court appearance, the defendant grumbles about his inaccessibility to Nancy. His wife attempts to placate him, but his tone becomes sharper. After Nancy tells John “We’ll take care of everything,” John replies, “I want both of their throats cut, both of them.” “Okay,” Nancy answers. “Capisci?” John demands, evoking an Italian expression meaning “Do you understand?” “Okay, all right,” Nancy is heard to respond.
During a conversation recorded on March 15, Nancy allegedly attempts to boost the morale of her incarcerated husband by telling him to remain strong and promises him, “When this ends, believe me, there’s going to be heads that will roll.”
In a March 23 conversation, Nancy can be heard telling her husband that the actions of prosecutors against John are “going to turn around and bite them in the ass.”
On April 8, John is heard in a recording asking Nancy to explain some aspects of the upcoming grand jury investigation. Nancy allegedly responds to her husband, “Something about our testimony. They want to go over (it) with us. I hope they all blow up.”
When questioned about the statements made by her and John DeSisti, Nancy cited her Fifth Amendment over and over again. When pressed to explain who would be “bitten in the ass,” she allegedly answered, “Everybody who is out to get him,” referring to John DeSisti as a victim. Nancy denied, however, that any of what was played before the grand jury were meant as malicious statements.
Nonetheless, representatives from the attorney general’s office on Friday will reportedly use the recordings as evidence to move that John DeSisti, who has since been moved from the jail in Bradford County to the State Correctional Institution in Dallas, be limited to contact with only his attorneys.
Meanwhile, DeSisti’s defense attorney, Arthur T. Donato, Jr., of Media, petitioned to have his client’s trial moved to another county, citing, among other things, overwhelming pretrial publicity in newspapers such as the Rocket-Courier and on television and radio stations, that would make finding an impartial jury in Bradford County impossible. The motion for change of venue was filed last week as part of the lengthier Omnibus Pretrial Motions and Incorporated Brief in Support of Omnibus Pretrial Motions. In the documents, Donato concedes that “pretrial publicity alone does not constitute actual prejudice.” In this case, however, Donato insists that media reports have been especially “sensational, inflammatory, and slanted toward conviction, rather than factual, or objective.”
In the motion, Donato goes on to suggest that, since the late David Keeffe was a prominent attorney in Bradford County and Carol Keeffe was the daughter of a prominent landowner in Bradford County and neighboring Tioga County, NY, a fair trial in Bradford County court would also be unattainable. Carol’s father, Michael DeSisti and David Keeffe were partners in a law firm bearing their names.
Donato insists that “there has been extensive, inflammatory, sensational, and highly inculpatory publicity about this incident” since the day in 2006 when the bodies of David and Carol Keeffe were discovered in their Athens Township home. Donato also cited the fact that more than 800 people attended the memorial services for the Keeffes held on Nov. 25, 2006. “Community sentiment is clearly against the defendant,” Donato states in the formal motion, “due in large part to the sensational news stories and the death of a prominent local attorney and his wife.” He accuses the Commonwealth as well of contributing to the sensationalism by issuing a press release on the matter.
On June 3, Donato filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Incorporated Brief in Support of Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, in which he requested that all charges—two for murder, one for burglary—be dropped against John DeSisti. In the document, Donato recants the fact that, in the days and weeks after the murder was discovered, the Commonwealth obtained information indicating that there were people other than the defendant that could have been at the scene of the crime near the suspected times of the killings, including “potentially disgruntled clients of David Keeffe” who might have been of interest to law enforcement. Though some of these individuals were interviewed in person or via consensual recorded phone conversations, and others consented to polygraph examinations, “the Commonwealth focused primarily upon the defendant as the assailant shortly after the investigation into the murders commenced,” despite, Donato noted, there was “evidence indicating that someone other than (John DeSisti) was involved in the murders.”
Donato insists that the investigation was poorly executed from the start, including vaguely worded search warrants that allowed investigators access to DeSisti’s home, the reading of his Miranda rights after questioning had begun, and that much of the “probable cause” was based on reported “ill will” between DeSisti and his cousin, Carol DeSisti, which Donato regarded as mere hearsay, rather than tangible evidence. Guns seized from John DeSisti’s Waverly property, the petition continues, were not connected to the murders.
“A myriad of Pennsylvania (court) decisions have shown evidence such as that presented here to be insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a verdict of guilt,” the document reads. “Where such is true, the Commonwealth has failed to establish a prima facie case.”
“Prima facie” is a legal term that basically infers that, on first examination, the account of a criminal charge appears to be substantiated by the evidence presented.