Unity man’s counsel says prosecutor should be recused because of tie to Cassandra Gross

November 9, 2018

The attorney for a Unity man who police consider a person of interest in the disappearance of his former girlfriend told a Westmoreland County judge Monday the prosecutor in two pending cases against his client should be recused because of a meeting he had with the woman before she went missing.

Defense attorney Dante Bertani said Cassandra Gross, if located, would be a key witness for Thomas Stanko, who is awaiting trial on charges he started a bar fight last year in Youngwood.

Stanko, 48, is charged with aggravated assault in connection with the bar fight. He is also charged with an unrelated offense for operating a vehicle not equipped with an ignition interlock device, a requirement of a previous sentence for a drunk-driving conviction.

Stanko, since his arrest, has maintained he was not the person who started the bar fight. Bertani said Gross submitted a private complaint on Stanko’s behalf to Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan insisting that another man was the aggressor in the melee.

″(Gross) is his best witness and she’s missing,” Bertani said.

As a result, Bertani said he intends to call Flanigan as a witness in Stanko’s case as part of the defense.

Flanigan on Monday confirmed Gross submitted a statement that, if believed, would have helped Stanko’s defense but was judged to be unreliable.

“Her version of events contradicted what Stanko told police. They were dramatically different. He told police nothing happened,” Flanigan said, adding he sees no basis to recuse himself from prosecuting the case.

Gross, 52, has been missing since early April when her burned-out sports utility vehicle was found abandoned near Twin Lakes Park. Police have searched Stanko’s property several times looking for clues as to her whereabouts. Stanko has denied any involvement or knowledge about Gross’ disappearance.

Stanko was sentenced this year to serve two to four years in prison for violating terms of his probation for 2015 assault convictions.

Bertani said Stanko intends to appeal that sentence but this month delayed an appeal hearing, saying his client needed a mental health evaluation.

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