Jury finds former prison guard guilty on 27 counts

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PITTSBURGH - An Allegheny County jury on Thursday found a former corrections officer at State Correctional Institution in Woods Run guilty on 27 counts that he physically abused inmates, but not guilty of charges that he sexually assaulted them.

Prosecutors accused Harry Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis of targeting inmates convicted of sex crimes involving minors. Coraopolis police arrested him in September 2011.

The convictions include a dozen counts of official oppression, eight of simple assault, three of criminal solicitation, three counts of indecent exposure and one count of terroristic threats.

The jury of seven women and five men acquitted Nicoletti of 52 counts including a dozen counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and 13 counts of institutional sexual assault. The jury could not reach a verdict on one charge that Nicoletti brought illegal contraband into the prison.

“Certainly, there were some very serious charges. The allegations were horrific,” said his defense attorney Steven Colafella. “It could have been substantially worse.”

Colafella said he believed the jury stopped short of finding him guilty on the more serious sexual charges because of questions about the witnesses' credibility. He said the verdict should make the civil lawsuits against his client “dead in the water.”

“I think the jury's message was they just simply didn't believe some of the witnesses,” he said.

Nicoletti appeared relieved as he exited the courtroom. He declined comment.

Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman said the conviction is not a reflection on the “hard-working people in our state prison system.”

“This case is a reflection that the laws of the commonwealth apply to everyone. No one is above the law and even inmates have protection,” Pittman said.

“Hopefully this decision will provide some closure for the victims in this case,” said Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton. “We would like to stress that this individual's actions are not representative of the great work the staff at SCI-Pittsburgh do on a daily basis.”

The trial before Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman lasted 11 days and featured 58 witnesses. The jury deliberated for three days, beginning Friday.

The judge set March 27 for sentencing. Nicoletti will remain free on bond until then, the judge decided.

 

This article was written by Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE.