The longtime assistant prosecutor says he probably won't become a defense lawyer.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Thorough, honest, meticulous, a hard worker.
Those are some of the attributes ascribed to Atty. Patrick R. Pochiro by his former and current bosses. Pochiro, who has been a full-time Mahoning County assistant prosecutor for 34 years, retires Friday.
He has been an assistant under four prosecutors -- Vincent E. Gilmartin, Gary Van Brocklin, James A. Philomena and Paul J. Gains.
He began his career with Gilmartinin 1969.
"He was a very devoted member of the prosecutor's staff while I was there," Gilmartin recalled. "He did his job exceedingly well and was a hard worker. He was an excellent employee who did an excellent job in handling all aspects of the law. I think he'll be sorely missed in the prosecutor's office."
Said Van Brocklin: "Pat is thorough, honest, diligent, and you won't meet a finer man."
Pochiro's current boss continuedthe kudos.
"I have never met a man with more integrity than Pat Pochiro," Gains said.
Pochiro said he has tried between 100 and 150 criminal cases over the years, presented hundreds of cases to county grand juries for either indictments or dismissals, and has prosecuted just about every type of crime there is.
Pochiro worked for Gilmartin from 1969 until Gilmartin was defeated by Van Brocklin. Van Brocklin cleaned house, and Pochiro was dismissed. After about 18 months, though, Van Brocklin asked him to come back in 1987.
When Van Brocklin was defeated by Philomena, Pochiro got the boot again. However, in 1989, Philomena called him back when another assistant prosecutor resigned.
When Gains unseated Philomena for the prosecutor's job, Pochiro was asked to stay on.
Pochiro, 62, said he's retiring because he has become disenchanted with prosecuting cases under Ohio's new sentencing guidelines in criminal cases.
The state Legislature changed the law in 1996, setting definite sentences for many crimes and leaning toward making multiple sentences for multiple crimes concurrent rather than consecutive.
"The new sentencing guidelines, I think, have made the [prosecutor's] job harder and it's getting worse," Pochiro said, adding the guidelines are resulting in "horrendous outcomes in sentencing. It is emasculating the penalties for the commission of crimes."
He added that some of the decisions coming down from courts of appeals on interpreting the sentencing statutes is making it more difficult for people to be sentenced to what they may actually deserve.
He said the guidelines "are proving to be onerous to the [trial] court to try to dispense a sentence that is proper."
He continued, "The statute is so convoluted in the way it is written it is open to interpretation, and the way [appellate courts] are interpreting it I don't think they are taking into consideration the intent of the Legislature and what's good for the public in general."
For example, he said, Judge R. Scott Krichbaum has tried to give out consecutive sentences, but the 7th District Court of Appeals doesn't feel he should do that and has reversed the judge's decisions on several occasions.
"I believe if you do multiple crimes, you should be given multiple sentences," the soft-spoken Pochiro said.
"The stress and frustration isn't worth it anymore, so it's time to hang 'em up," Pochiro said, laughing.
The toughest prosecution
He said his most difficult case as far as getting sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction was in the trial of Tommy Williams for the murder of Michael Booker, 26, of Canfield.
The state had to try the case twice, once in April and again in September 2001. Booker was at a Midlothian Avenue bar in 2000 and came to the aid of a woman who was being punched by a Campbell man.
A fistfight ensued between Booker and the Campbell man, and another man emerged from the crowd, put a 9mm handgun to Booker's ribs, pulled the trigger and ran away, witnesses said. Other witnesses identified the gunman as Williams.
"The evidence was hard to get because the killing took place on the eve of Easter Day. Everyone was drunk; only one witness was sober," Pochiro said, adding a lot of evidence was circumstantial.
Williams' first trial ended in a hung jury, but the state pursued the matter again and got the conviction. Williams was sentenced to 18 years to life.
Pochiro said he will go back to private practice, but he won't become a defense lawyer.
"When I first started as a prosecutor, one of the veteran defense lawyers told me not to stick around too long [as a prosecutor] or, he said, 'You're going to be one way.' So I guess I stuck around too long. So I don't think I'll be doing any defense work," he said, smiling.
Pochiro said he got along well with all the common pleas judges he served under, and he believes the judges respected his courtroom work and preparation.
He had special praise for three judges, however.
"I really liked Judge Forrest J. Cavalier. He was one of the hardest-working judges we've ever had. He was always in his chambers working and preparing. His court ran smoothly," Pochiro said.
"Judge William G. Houser also was a good judge. He had control of his court. His court proceeded along without problems, and his caseloads moved along.
"I think Judge Krichbaum is one of the best. His cases are current. His backlog is low, and he runs his courtroom efficiently," he said.
Another plaudit from defense lawyers was that Pochiro was fair. Pochiro explained his general philosophy as a prosecutor.
"Most people like to call this an adversary system -- the state vs. the defendant. I never looked at it in that context," he said.
"Our system of justice is supposed to be fair and to arrive at a just decision. After all, the defendant is also part of the state. I wanted to be fair to the state of Ohio and to the defendant. I think most lawyers respect me for that."
His advice to younger lawyers is to follow the Boy Scouts' motto: Be prepared.
"I've seen some lawyers go into court and not know the law they were trying to apply in a case. You have to be prepared, and it makes it easier for you in the end," Pochiro said. "You don't have the problems facing you if you're not prepared."
Pochiro, who is married to the former Gloria Jean Kupec, says he will spend more time with his three children and two grandchildren, take up golf again and devote more time to doing volunteer work.
He is a 1960 Poland Seminary High School graduate who earned his bachelor's degree in social studies from Youngstown State University in 1964. He received his juris doctorate degree in 1967 from the University of Notre Dame.