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David CHMIEL

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: September 21, 1983
Date of arrest: 7 days after
Date of birth: February 24, 1955
Victims profile: Three elderly siblings, Angelina, Victor, and James Lunario
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1984
 
 
 
 
 

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Eastern Distric

 
opinion J-92-98 dissent J-92-98
 
 
 
 
 
 

At approximately 9:00 a.m. on September 21, 1983, Mary Drake, a day nurse hired to attend to James Lunario, found James, his sister, Angelina, and brother, Victor, murdered in the home the three shared in Throop, Pennsylvania.

According to the autopsy findings, Angelina sustained eleven stab wounds; James sustained ten stab wounds; and Victor sustained twelve stab wounds. Angelina and James also had defensive stab wounds on their hands and/or arms.

Based on the physical findings of the autopsy and the visual and auditory accounts provided by eyewitnesses, the medical examiner estimated the time of death of all three victims was between 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 20, 1983, and 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday September 21, 1983.

The time of death was narrowed based upon information provided by several neighbors. One neighbor, who was walking his dog at approximately 11:00 p.m. September 20, observed Victor standing in the kitchen doorway of the Lunario home and heard Angelina call to him.

Another neighbor named Linda was startled by her dog barking at 11:45 p.m. and, upon looking out of her window, observed a powder blue car with a shiny grill and hood ornament parked close to her own car. Her husband also saw this vehicle when he arrived home between 2:15 and 2:30 a.m. on September 21.

Both witnesses stated the vehicle was gone by 8:00 a.m. Linda subsequently identified  a car shown to her in a photograph as the one she saw in front of her house, and also identified a car at a State Police garage as the one she saw on the night of the murders. The vehicle in the photograph and in the garage belonged to Chmiel.

At about 1:20 a.m., another neighbor, Deborah Lahotsky Washenko, let her dog out of the house and, while waiting for its return, heard a scream, which she attributed to one of her neighbors.

Between 1:20 a.m. and 1:25 a.m., Pauline Stroka heard a noise, and when she walked onto her porch to investigate, heard Angelina scream “Oh my God, no.” Ms. James, who had suffered a stroke, had been discharged from the hospital the previous day. Stroka, who knew James had been ill, did not call the police because she assumed something had happened to him.

Based upon these observations the police were able to narrow the time of the murders to between 1:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. on September 21.

Upon inspecting the murder scene, the police discovered a sweater sleeve that had been used as a mask during the robbery and murders of the Lunarios. Police inspection of the crime scene also uncovered substantial amounts of money, including $12,296 in cash.

The Lunarios kept their cash in envelopes, which they hid in drawers, photo albums, and boxes, and maintained a record of their money by keeping a running tally on the front of the envelopes. While inspecting the home, the police discovered empty envelopes with notations on the front indicating that they had once contained a total of over $4000, which the police concluded had been stolen by the intruder.

With the assistance of the DeGrazio family, who lived next door to the Lunarios, police were able to trace the sweater sleeve mask to Martin Chmiel, David Chmiel’s brother.

In the early 1980’s, Martin married the DeGrazio’s daughter, Mary, and while living in the DeGrazio’s home, had befriended Victor. During their friendship, Victor allowed Martin access to a strongbox, which contained thick envelopes consisting of $100 bills, and lent money to Martin.

Thus, Martin knew that the Lunarios had envelopes of cash hidden throughout their house. Just before the murders, Martin had a falling out with Victor that essentially ended their friendship.

The murder investigation revealed that five months prior to the Lunario murders, on April 21, 1983, David Chmiel was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent and aggravated assault, terroristic threats, and recklessly endangering another person. Chmiel was subsequently convicted of these crimes in 1983.

Another brother of David Chmiel, Robert D. Chmiel, and his sister, Nancy Chmiel Moran (hereafter Nancy), confirmed that Chmiel needed money to pay his defense attorney.

When Chmiel told Martin he needed “fast money” to pay his lawyer, Martin informed Chmiel about Victor’s strongbox of cash and envelopes of money, and Martin and Chmiel agreed to burglarize the Lunario home.

Pursuant to their plan to rob the Lunarios, Martin and Chmiel fashioned masks out of one of Martin’s sweaters. Martin also described to Chmiel the layout of the Lunario home. Martin, however, later told police that he subsequently changed his mind because Victor was his friend and he feared he may be seen by his in-laws, who lived next door. Thus, Martin backed out of the plan.

On the morning after the Lunario murders, Chmiel and Martin were rebuilding the fire damaged home of their sister Nancy and her husband, Thomas Buffton. At 10:30 a.m. on September 21, 1983, Robert’s wife visited the construction site and informed Martin that the Lunarios had been murdered the previous night.

When Chmiel returned to the construction site from gathering supplies, Martin confronted Chmiel about the murders. Chmiel initially denied any involvement. Later that afternoon, however, Chmiel admitted to Martin that he had murdered the Lunarios. Chmiel also provided Martin with a detailed account of what had transpired that night.

Chmiel’s description of the crime, later conveyed to police by Martin, matched the information and evidence found at the crime scene. Specifically, Chmiel told Martin that he had tried to enter the Lunarios’ home via the cellar door, but upon finding it locked, proceeded to enter the home through the rear door on the first floor.

Once inside the home, Angelina, who was sitting on the couch in the living room, cried out, so Chmiel killed her to silence her. Chmiel told Martin that James also attempted to scream from his hospital bed on the first floor, and Chmiel killed him as well.

Chmiel then proceeded up the stairs to the second floor, where he killed Victor in his bed. Chmiel advised Martin that he stole $4,500.00 from the strongbox and $800 from Angelina’s purse. Chmiel also searched for money under the cushions of the sofa Angelina had been sitting on, and then straightened Angelina’s slumped body into an upright position. Chmiel informed Martin that he placed the stolen money in a pillow case he obtained from the Lunario home.

After committing the murders and searching the premises for cash, Chmiel drove to Martin’s home, but was advised by Martin’s wife, Mary, that Martin was not home. Later, upon reading a news account of the murders that discussed the substantial sums of money recovered by the police, Chmiel told Martin that “it would have been nice to get that” because “as it stands, I only got $1700 for each of them.”

Within a week of the murders, two witnesses testified to seeing Chmiel flash $100 bills while drinking at a neighborhood bar. One of these witnesses, Darryl Crawford, testified that when Chmiel’s wife contacted him by telephone at the bar, they engaged in a heated argument during which Chmiel exclaimed “I’ll kill you too.”

Based on the sweater sleeve mask found at the Lunario home, the police investigation led to Martin, whom the police questioned on September 28, 1983. Martin initially denied any involvement with or knowledge of the Lunario murders.

Upon being confronted by the police with a photograph depicting him wearing the sweater that was used to make the mask, however, Martin informed police of Chmiel’s confession to him.

During the police interview Martin provided details that only the murderer would have known, as no such detailed information had been released to the public. Included in the details provided to the police by Martin was the fact that the victims had been robbed and that money had been removed from a box in Victor’s dresser drawer; the cellar door was locked and the burglar gained entry through an unlocked rear door; Angelina was seated on the sofa, James was in bed on the first floor, and Victor was in an upstairs bedroom; Angelina yelled, and James was unable to do so (because of his stroke); Chmiel drove his light blue 1976 Grand Prix to the Lunario home, and parked a couple of blocks away; Chmiel wore gloves while committing the crimes and disposed of the murder weapon; Chmiel wore one of the sweater masks he and Martin had made; Chmiel searched Angelina’s room for money; Chmiel repositioned Angelina after he searched under the sofa cushions; and Chmiel took a pillow case from the home to carry the money.

Based on the detailed information provided by Martin, the police concluded that he could have learned this information only from the actual murderer. Police ruled out Martin’s involvement in the murders by independently verifying his alibi with several impartial sources.

According to Martin, he spent the early morning hours of September 21, 1983, with his brother-in-law Mr. Buffton, whom the Lackawanna County Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC) employed to keep watch for brush fires occurring on East Mountain in Scranton, twenty-five minutes from the Lunario home in Throop. Scranton Fire Chief and ARC employees confirmed Martin’s alibi for that time period.

At the request of Trooper Gaetano and Trooper Carlson, Martin agreed to wear a wire on September 28, 1983, so that he could meet with Chmiel and record their conversation. Arrangements were made for the meeting between Martin and Chmiel to take place in a parking lot.

During the meeting, Chmiel was guarded with his remarks to Martin. Nonetheless, shortly after midnight, following the conclusion of the recorded conversation, the police arrested Chmiel.

After arresting Chmiel, the police administered Miranda warnings and Chmiel indicated that he understood his constitutional rights. Chmiel, however, agreed to answer Trooper Gaetano’s questions.

Trooper Gaetano inquired into Chmiel’s whereabouts “last Tuesday night” (i.e., September 21, 1983), to which Chmiel responded that he had been at home watching television with his wife. When Trooper Gaetano pressed further, Chmiel declined to elaborate or provide any more information.

The day after Chmiel’s arrest, police conducted a search of his home. During the search, they discovered $2400 in $50 and $100 dollar bills on top of a hutch in the dining room.

After Chmiel’s arrest, a Pennsylvania State Police forensic scientist conducted a microscopic analysis of six hairs that were retrieved from the sweater sleeve mask found in Victor’s bedroom. When the forensic scientist compared those hairs microscopically with hairs obtained from Chmiel, both sets of hairs contained identical features. The forensic scientist concluded that the two hairs found on the mask were microscopically similar to Chmiel’s hair, and excluded Martin and the Lunarios as sources.

In addition, mitochondrial DNA testing revealed that Chmiel matched one of the mitochondrial DNA profiles retrieved from two of the hairs found in the sweater sleeve mask.

On September 29, 1983, Chmiel was charged with criminal homicide, robbery, burglary, and theft by unlawful taking in connection with the deaths of Angelina, Victor, and James.

On October 29, 1984, a jury found Chmiel guilty of three counts of murder of the first-degree, two counts of robbery, one count of burglary, and two counts of theft by unlawful taking. Following completion of the penalty phase of trial, the jury sentenced Chmiel to death.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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