Northumberland County Prison guard may face jail after all
A former correctional officer at Northumberland County Prison, convicted in 2006 of felony drug-related charges but later acquitted by a county judge, may have to serve his original two- to four-year state prison sentence after all.
Kazimir Craig "KC" Grohowski, 42, of Mount Carmel, considered himself a free man following his acquittal by then-President Judge Robert B. Sacavage in 2011. But a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court agrees with Senior Deputy Attorney General David C. Gorman that the sentence should be reinstated.
Grohowski said he is stressed and concerned for his family, which includes his fiance and five children.
"Basically, Gorman is telling me I have to go to jail," he said earlier this week. "I just don't understand any of this."
It is a unique and complex situation.
Court acted too late
The Supreme Court's ruling, issued Dec. 3, upheld a Superior Court decision from May 22 that vacated Sacavage's ruling for acquittal.
Sacavage made that ruling on June 23, 2011, after post-sentence motions were filed by Grohowski's attorney, Edward E. Kopko, of Ithaca, N.Y., on Jan. 26 of that year. The higher courts found that the court would have had to rule within 120 days - by May 26, 2011 - on the post-sentence motions as required by law.
In essence, neither of the higher courts are saying Sacavage's ruling of acquittal was wrong, but that it came too late.
"At that point (after May 26), the trial (county) court lost jurisdiction to decide the motions," the Superior Court ruled. "Therefore, the court's order entered June 23, 2011 - the order purporting to grant a judgment of acquittal ... was a legal nullity."
The Superior Court ruling was appealed by Kopko, but when the Supreme Court upheld it in December, Gorman took action.
He requested an order be signed by a Northumberland County judge to hold a hearing in the near future, after which Grohowski would be remanded to the custody of the county sheriff's office for transport to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, where state inmates are processed before being assigned to a prison to begin their sentences. A copy of Gorman's motion was served Jan. 13 via first-class mail to Kopko's office.
Grohowski said he was "shocked" when he received the notice of the Supreme Court's ruling from Kopko's paralegal Jason Violette, and a copy of Gorman's motion.
The motion states that all appeals have been exhausted, but it's not clear why - if the court said his acquittal was invalid because of a delay by the court - he wouldn't have the chance for a new appeal or some other recourse.
Several phone messages left for Kopko this week were not returned.
Case broke in 2004
Gorman prosecuted the case against Grohowski and six other current or former prison guards charged April 14, 2004, in connection with a two-year grand jury investigation into offenses allegedly committed between 2000 and 2002 at the prison.
Charges against one of the other guards were withdrawn. Another guard was acquitted of drug charges during a 2005 trial and allowed to return to work at the prison. The other four guards entered guilty pleas and received various sentences, but avoided spending time in prison.
Grohowski was found guilty by a jury of three counts of delivery of contraband - cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana - to an inmate at the jail during a jury trial in September 2006. He was found not guilty of aggravated assault against an inmate.
Appeals for both sides
Following his conviction and prior to being sentenced, Grohowski, through Kopko, filed a motion for a new trial, citing ineffective counsel by Richard Feudale.
In August 2007, Sacavage granted the new trial, citing a need for "extraordinary relief." Among the key issues was that Feudale didn't object to Gorman, in his closing argument, asking the jury to consider sending a "message" by finding Grohowski guilty. Sacavage said Grohowski's case was prejudiced by that remark.
He also said physical evidence supporting the guilty verdict was insufficient and that the prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence presented in the testimony of three inmates. He said that testimony amounted "to little more than vague assertions that they had received drugs from the defendant."
Gorman said the "message" statement had no bearing on the jury's verdict and he defended Feudale by pointing out that he filed pre-trial motions in the case and attacked the creditability of various witnesses, including inmates.
Gorman appealed Sacavage's ruling to the Superior Court, which in summer 2009 ruled in a 3-2 decision that extraordinary relief was not justified because the appeals process shouldn't occur until after sentencing.
So Sacavage's ruling for a new trial was overturned and the case proceeded to sentencing based on the original conviction. In October 2009, Sacavage sentenced Grohowski to two to four years based on the original conviction.
While these appeals were taking place, Sacavage had granted Grohowski's request to remain free on bail so he could take care of his children. He noted that Grohowski, who works in construction, had appeared for every court hearing during the course of the case.
With the granting of a new trial overruled and sentencing officially handed down, Kopko again began the appeal process for his client. He filed post-sentence motions requesting acquittal or a new trial, and arguments were heard by Sacavage.
Three months later, Sacavage acquitted Grohowski due to what he ruled was ineffective counsel at his trial and the "message" remark by Gorman.
But Gorman appealed again, and that's when the Superior Court noted the 120-day deadline to hear the post-sentence motions hadn't been met. With that, it ruled, the motions were "denied by operation of law."
"Accordingly," its ruling concludes, "we vacate the trial court's order now on appeal and remand with instructions that the trial court reinstate Grohowski's judgement of sentence."