Retired Pa. firefighter continues to fight arson conviction
Thomas Gervasi recently filed a petition in federal court seeking a new trial relating to the 2008 fire that destroyed his garage and apartment building
By Terrie Morgan-Besecker
SCRANTON, Pa. — A retired Scranton firefighter convicted of setting a fire that destroyed a building he owned is continuing his fight to overturn the conviction despite having been released from prison.
Thomas Gervasi recently filed a petition in federal court seeking a new trial relating to the June 17, 2008, fire that destroyed his garage and apartment building on Mark Avenue in Scranton.
A Lackawanna County jury convicted Gervasi, now 64, in December 2011, of multiple counts of arson and several other offenses. Authorities said he set fire to his garage, which then spread to his apartment building, because he was having financial difficulties. He was sentenced March 16, 2012, to five to 10 years in state prison. He was released on parole March 13, 2017.
Gervasi’s attorney, Edward Rymsza, of Williamsport, filed a petition known as a writ of habeas corpus April 23. The petition is a legal procedure in which a defendant asks a federal judge to determine if he or she is being illegally held in violation of the U.S. Constitution. It normally is filed by someone still serving a prison sentence.
It’s unclear why Gervasi is seeking relief under the law, given he has been released. Attempts to reach Gervasi and Rymsza were unsuccessful.
The petition is the latest of several appeals Gervasi filed. The others were filed in the state court system.
Gervasi raised several issues in a 2012 appeal to the state Superior Court, including that Judge Margaret Bisignani Moyle improperly allowed prosecutors to present information about his financial troubles at trial. He also challenged the admission of a test a state trooper performed to support his theory that the blaze started in a tire that was intentionally set on fire. The Superior Court rejected those claims in July 2013.
The federal appeal alleges Gervasi’s trial attorney was ineffective for not objecting to the introduction of the financial information. He also alleges the attorney erred in not challenging the test the trooper performed and for not objecting to the prosecutor’s closing argument.
On Monday, U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Susan Schwab ordered the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office to respond to the petition by May 21.
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