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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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.