WILKES-BARRE – A Luzerne County judge has thrown out a request by a man serving a life sentence in a 1992 homicide to have his sentence reduced on a claim he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime.
Todd Hyung-Rae Tarselli, now 39, had requested a reduced sentence because he was born in South Korea, which calculates ages differently than the United States, allegedly making him 17 years old at the time he was charged with shooting and robbing his 17-year-old friend, Mark Bunchalk.
Tarselli argued in court papers filed in December that he is eligible for a reduced sentence thanks to a new state law that prohibits life sentences for juveniles.
The recently passed law states juveniles convicted of first- and second-degree murder can no longer receive mandatory life sentences when tried as an adults. The law does not preclude a judge from imposing a life sentence, but allows for a judge to choose from a wide range of sentencing options.
County Judge Thomas Burke said in a ruling this week he was dismissing Tarselli’s request because Tarselli did not file in a timely fashion in accordance with state law and because Tarselli knew of the age discrepancy long before he brought up the issue in his post-conviction collateral relief petition.
Tarselli was charged in January 1992 with Bunchalk’s death in Hazleton. He pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge and was sentenced in November 1992 to life in prison. He appealed his sentence to the state Superior Court, but his sentence was upheld in September 1994.
Tarselli wrote in his petition that he was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family in 1980. In South Korea, he explained, when a child is born, he or she is considered a year old.
Tarselli argues because of that discrepancy he was actually 17 at the time Bunchalk was killed, not 18 as his birth date reflects.
Assistant District Attorney James McMonagle argued in court papers and at a May hearing that Tarselli did not file his request in a timely fashion and that the new law does not apply retroactively to old cases. McMonagle also argued that Tarselli was aware of the birth date discrepancy as early as 1998.
An Oklahoma man serving a life sentence stemming from a double homicide in Hollenback Township in 1999 also filed court papers this week arguing he is appealing a dismissal of his post-conviction relief act petition, based on the same claim that he should receive a new sentence because he was a juvenile at the time of the killings.
Kenneth Carl Crawford, 29, said in court papers that because he was 17 at the time of the murders of Diana Algar and Jose Molina at the Paradise Camp Resort, he should be entitled to a new sentence.
Crawford was convicted of the killings in January 2001 and sentenced to two life sentences. Prosecutors say Algar and Molina took in Crawford and his one-time co-defendant, David Lee Hanley, who were hitchhikers, before they were killed.