Tuesday, March 07, 2006
By Janice Crompton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Washington County woman convicted in a 1993 slaying will get a new trial, after a judge ruled her trial attorney was ineffective.
Tiffany Pritchett, 29, of Donora, was convicted in the December 1993 shooting death of Troy Groomes, 25, also of Donora. At the time a 17-year-old with a ninth-grade education, Ms. Pritchett was convicted chiefly on the testimony of a co-defendant who claimed he and Ms. Pritchett were walking down the street with Mr. Groomes when Ms. Pritchett shot him in the back of the head without warning.
Ms. Pritchett’s appeals attorney, Noah Geary, argued before Lycoming County Judge Clinton Smith during a post-conviction hearing in August that Ms. Pritchett should receive a new trial because her trial attorney erred several times.
Judge Smith heard the case in the Washington County Courthouse three years after the appeal was assigned to former Beaver County Judge J. Quint Salmon, who initially heard arguments in the case in September 2002 but never issued a ruling.
Mr. Geary argued that Ms. Pritchett’s trial attorney, Francis Sichko, was ineffective because he allowed Ms. Pritchett to take a polygraph exam during her November 2004 trial, then attended a college football game rather than accompany her to the test. Mr. Sichko said he didn’t attend because he believed he had an agreement with the Washington County district attorney’s office that anything said by Ms. Pritchett during the exam would not be used against her.
Three state troopers claimed Ms. Pritchett confessed to them during the polygraph exam, which Ms. Pritchett denies. She was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.
Judge Smith also overturned the conviction in part because state police failed to have Ms. Pritchett sign a waiver before her post-polygraph interview with them.
Mr. Geary said that when Ms. Pritchett heard the news yesterday, “She started crying and was extremely overcome.
“She’s elated and, after six years of a very challenging case, so am I,” Mr. Geary said yesterday.
Officials from the district attorney’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday, but have 30 days to appeal to state Superior Court.
Mr. Geary said Ms. Pritchett will “plead guilty to nothing” if she is offered a deal by the district attorney’s office. If Ms. Pritchett is retried, the polygraph exam would be inadmissable, he said.