Dispute Over Attorney Delays Nina Gatto Homicide Case
Cases against two of three defendants charged in the April death of a drug informant are on hold until a judge rules on whether a specific defense attorney can represent one of the accused.
Officials postponed a preliminary hearing for Cornelius Mapson, scheduled for July 25. Since then, his attorney, Curt Parkins, filed an appeal with the state Superior Court challenging Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse’s order removing him from the homicide case and a related drug case.
Barasse barred Parkins from representing Mapson at the request of District Attorney Mark Powell, who cited concerns that Parkins previously worked in the same law firm as attorney Paul Walker,who represented the homicide victim, Nina Gatto, 24, in a drug case.
Police say Mapson, 32, of Pittston, injected Gatto with fentanyl and then suffocated her inside her North Scranton apartment because she worked with police to make a drug purchase that led to his arrest.
Two other people, Melinda Palermo,38, of Pittston, and Kevin Weeks, 25, address unknown, are charged with conspiring with Mapson to commit the crime. Palermo waived her preliminary hearing June 18, but hearings for Mapson and Weeks have not been scheduled.
Walker represented Gatto after she was arrested in January for selling drugs to another confidential informant. He negotiated a plea to a possession of drug paraphernalia charge.
Gatto became an informant for police soon afterward. Her use as an informant sparked controversy after her death because she had serious mental health issues and her mother served as her legal guardian.
In the motion to disqualify Parkins, Powell argued there was a conflict of interest because Parkins had access to Gatto’s file while employed by Walker’s firm. The firm dissolved earlier this year and Parkins is now a law partner with attorney Matthew Comerford.
Parkins raises several issues in the appeal, including that Powell does not have legal standing to challenge his representation of Mapson. He also argued Barrasse erred in denying Mapson the right to have the counsel of his choice and in finding that Mapson could not waive any potential conflict of interest issue.
Powell recently filed a motion to dismiss Parkins’ appeal, arguing he had no legal right to file it because it involves a pretrial ruling. By law, an attorney must seek a judge’s permission to challenge a pre-trial matter and Parkins did not do that.
A judge will take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling at a later date.
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