PITTSBURGH (AP) - A fired Pittsburgh state prison guard accused of physically and sexually assaulting inmates who were gay or serving time for child-sex crimes has been convicted on 27 counts of mistreating them and exposing himself, but was acquitted of dozens of other charges — including all of the sexual assault allegations he faced.
Harry Nicoletti, 61, of Coraopolis was allowed to remain free until he's sentenced March 27, when prosecutors are expected to argue that his crimes, including several counts each of official oppression and simple assault, nonetheless warrant a prison sentence.
Nicoletti's defense had argued the allegations were false or, at best, exaggerations fueled by the inmate rumor mill at the century-old prison formerly known as Western Pen, and the larger Department of Corrections system of prisons. The verdict suggests the jury of seven women and five men found the latter to be true — that is, that Nicoletti mistreated inmates, or encouraged other inmates to do it for him, but that the more egregious sexual assault claims were exaggerations or not conclusively proven.
Deputy District Attorney Jon Pittman opened the trial Jan. 9 by telling jurors that Nicoletti abused his power to feed his "demented desires."
Nicoletti, who said the day he was arrested that the charges were "made up" and his attorney, Stephen Colafella, have argued the allegations spun wildly out of control after internal investigators learned of other alleged victims while investigating claims by one pedophile who complained he was abused by Nicoletti.
That inmate told a counselor at another prison where he was eventually assigned that Nicoletti had exposed himself and threatened to break his hand if he didn't perform a sex act on Nicoletti.
The jury convicted Nicoletti of indecent exposure, terroristic threats and official oppression in relation to that incident.
The convict's story was referred to the Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence, which investigates inmate abuse allegations for the state Department of Corrections, and led to other alleged inmate victims, including a transsexual who contends Nicoletti sodomized him on three occasions. The jury rejected six counts relating to that inmate's alleged sexual assaults, but did convict Nicoletti of official oppression of that prisoner.
In all, seven guards have been charged, though none as seriously or centrally as Nicoletti, who went to trial on 80 counts, including several each of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and institutional sexual assault. Those two crimes were the most serious Nicoletti faced, and could have resulted in decades in prison.
Three other guards accused of helping Nicoletti abuse the inmates or turning a blind eye to it, had their charges dismissed or dropped before they could stand trial. Another guard has already been convicted of threatening an inmate, though he was acquitted of charges involving three other alleged victims, and two other former guards await trial after Nicoletti.
Nicoletti's jury heard from 58 witnesses, including 20 alleged inmate victims, over 11 days before beginning their deliberations Friday.