WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough has denied an appeal filed by a convicted murderer who sought to be re-sentenced as a minor for killing a teenager at a fast food restaurant more than 28 years ago.
Vough issued his ruling Monday after two days of testimony in August on a petition for Post Conviction Relief filed by Todd Rae Tarselli.
Tarselli filed the PCRA petition claiming he was 17 years old when he killed Mark Bunchalk, 17, during a robbery at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Broad Street in Hazleton on Jan. 23, 1992.
Tarselli was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole in addition to 10 to 20 years in prison for the robbery and five years for illegally possessing a weapon, a 22-caliber rifle. He was re-sentenced Sept. 22, 1993, which only absolved $35,000 in fines.
State appellate courts have upheld the conviction and life sentence for Tarselli.
But a 2012 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama declared mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.
If Tarselli was found to be younger than 18, he would had been re-sentenced to life in prison and eligible for parole.
A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana made Miller v. Alabama retroactive, giving Tarselli an opportunity to argue his age at the time of the fatal shooting.
Court records and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has Tarselli’s date of birth as Nov. 14, 1973, which put him at 18 years, two months, one week and two days when he killed Bunchalk.
Vough listened to testimony that only addressed Tarselli’s age at the time of the fatal shooting.
Tarselli testified on his own behalf indicating his official date of birth is Nov. 14, 1973, but did not know his actual date of birth.
In a seven page decision, Vough noted three witnesses who testified established that a child born in South Korea is considered to be one year old at the time of their birth and South Korea did not maintain accurate records regarding birth dates.
Information from the Post Adoption Service Center submitted during the hearing indicated Tarselli’s actual birth date was unknown and there was no other way to investigate his true birth date unless his birth mother was found, Vough noted.
Records from an adoption agency in Korea and school records did not indicate Tarselli was 17 at the time of the killing, according to Vough’s decision.