Luzerne County public defender seeks $100K for death penalty case

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Marchetti -

Luzerne County Chief Public Defender Steven Greenwald is seeking a $100,000 transfer from the county’s 2018 budget reserve to cover the cost of an expert witness and other increased requirements in a death-penalty case.

The county District Attorney’s Office filed notice of its plans to seek the death penalty against 51-year-old Joseph John Marchetti Jr. last month.

Investigators allege Marchetti beat and shot to death his girlfriend, Antoinette Wilkinson, 46, inside their Foster Township home Jan. 28.

He also is accused of beating his girlfriend’s 72-year-old mother, Barbara Wilkinson, with a lead-filled club before shooting himself in the face. The elder Wilkinson survived and testified about her ordeal at Marchetti’s preliminary hearing in March.

County council is scheduled to discuss the funding request at Tuesday’s work session, which follows a 6 p.m. voting meeting at the courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Greenwald’s office must represent Marchetti because he meets qualification guidelines, Greenwald said in his council agenda submission.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sets specific guidelines on properly and effectively representing defendants in death-penalty cases, Greenwald wrote. This includes the use of a mitigation expert, which will cost at least $70,000 to $75,000 alone, he said.

Mitigation experts are specially trained to perform extensive background reviews of defendants to present reasons why a jury may not deem the accused worthy of the death penalty. These reviews typically assess a defendant’s childhood and family relationships, educational background, medical and mental health records and prior criminal and employment history.

“The legal defense of defendants in capital cases is significantly more costly than representation in any other criminal matter,” Greenwald wrote.

The public defender’s office did not include such an expense in its budget request submitted last fall because both the homicide and prosecutors’ move to seek the death penalty occurred in 2018, Greenwald wrote.

A transfer from the reserve is the only funding option, he explained.

The county has $4.538 million left in its 2018 budget reserve.

Any money remaining in this reserve at the end of the year would be credited as a surplus to reduce the deficit the county is still carrying on its financial books.

The deficit was $8 million the end of 2016, the last audit concluded. The updated deficit balance will be revealed in the next audit due June 30.

Marchetti, who faces counts of criminal homicide and aggravated assault, has pleaded not guilty. He remains jailed at the county lockup without bail.

Prosecutors asserted two aggravating circumstances make this a capital case: That Marchetti also created a grave risk of death to Barbara Wilkinson, and that he engaged in torture in the killing of Antoinette Wilkinson, who was also known as Toni Lynn.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.