Nov. 2—WILKES-BARRE — A corrections officer at the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, Jackson Township, denied he accepted food from inmates as payment and denied he allowed an inmate to fight another inmate that ended in murder.
Osmel Martinez, 28, of Kingston, testified in his own defense Thursday, the fourth day of his Luzerne County jury trial before Judge Joseph F. Sklarosky Jr. on charges of involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and unsworn falsification to authorities related to the Jan. 28, 2021, stabbing death of inmate Edgar Gearhart.
Assistant district attorneys Jarrett Ferentino and James McMonagle told the jury Martinez was reckless in his responsibility as the senior corrections officer of G-Block and allowed inmate Nafese Antoine Pierce, 27, to fight Gearhart, 24, in a dispute about phone privileges.
Martinez’s attorneys, Mark Bufalino and Paul Walker, have argued inmates who testified against their client should not be trusted as Martinez had wrote up 22 infractions against them for inappropriate behavior, such as using abusive language and disobeying commands.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon.
During the trial, Ferentino and McMonagle relied upon the testimony of Pierce and former G-Block inmates Marques Birney and Michael Diorio.
Birney testified he overheard Pierce asking Martinez if he could “rip” with Gearhart, meaning to fight, and Martinez told Pierce to “take it up to the cell.”
Diorio testified when he told Martinez Gearhart needed medical attention, Martinez replied, “(Expletive) him, let him die.”
Pierce, who pled guilty to third-degree murder related to Gearhart’s death, testified Martinez put him in charge of scheduling phone calls among other G-Block inmates, and was paid with food items from the prison’s commissary.
Pierce said Martinez called him from his cell when Gearhart was caught using a phone despite not paying for a phone call slot. After words were exchanged, Pierce said he asked Martinez if he could “rip” with Gearhart.
The fight between Pierce and Gearhart occurred in Gearhart’s cell. As Pierce left, Gearhart yelled the fight was not over as Pierce admitted he obtained a shank from another inmate, returned to Gearhart’s cell and stabbed him in the neck.
An autopsy revealed Gearhart died from the stab wound that severed two veins that bled inside. His death was ruled a homicide.
The turning point during the trial as presented by Ferentino and McMonagle was a video recorded interview that involved state police Trooper Shaun Flynn and now-retired Trooper Edward Urban with Martinez.
Urban testified Martinez was interviewed as a “commonwealth witness” as investigators, at the time, were gathering information.
But, during the interview, Urban said Martinez was inconsistent in his answers as the video clearly showed him becoming confrontational.
For Martinez’s defense, Bufalino and Walker called upon now-retired state police investigators who interviewed inmates on Jan. 30, 2021, two days after Gearhart was killed.
The retired investigators said the environment was difficult as inmates did not want to be known as being questioned or cooperating with law enforcement. Statements made by Diorio when he was questioned Jan. 30, 2021, differed from his testimony.
Martinez testified inmates would have jobs on G-Block as there were only two correctional officers in control of approximately 144 inmates. For Pierce, Martinez said, he handled the phone slot appointments and mopped floors, but the phones were in complete control of correctional officers.
Martinez said when Gearhart’s cellmate, Maurice Freeman, reported Gearhart was in need of medical help, he contacted his zone sergeant and the two responded to Gearhart’s cell finding him face down in water.
Martinez said they performed life saving measures until a medical team arrived.
Ferentino and McMonagle believe Martinez was first told about Gearhart needing medical attention at about 7:20 p.m., but waited until 8:25 p.m. to call for the medical team.