By Jun Tae “Walter” Ko and Adam Yates
Steven Slutzker, a Pittsburgh man convicted of a 1975 murder, has hired a private investigator to follow up on information uncovered by The Medill Justice Project during its probe of the case last year.
Private investigator James Ramsey, a retired Pittsburgh police officer who has examined other potentially wrongful convictions, said he is reaching out to people whom MJP interviewed as part of his own investigation.
“It just jumped out that there were too many irregularities,” Ramsey said of what was uncovered in the MJP investigation. “Somebody or somewhere should look into these and give this guy a fair hearing.”
Slutzker’s family came across Ramsey last year when he gave a talk about one of his investigations, a 1976 Pittsburgh murder case that put a man in prison for life. Ramsey concluded police and prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense.
Ramsey said he believed Slutzker is innocent after reading MJP’s in-depth story, which identified numerous inconsistencies among police records and witness accounts.
“The greatest feeling in the world … would be to see an innocent person released from prison for just even one small thing that I may have done to help that cause,” Ramsey said.
Police interrogated Slutzker for the murder of his neighbor John Mudd Sr. shortly after the crime occurred in 1975. That year, Slutzker had been having an affair with the victim’s wife, he later told police. No physical evidence tied Slutzker to the crime, and homicide charges against him in 1976 were dismissed. He was, however, convicted of solicitation for trying to hire a hitman and served about a year in prison. No one was convicted of the murder.
In 1990, 20-year-old John Mudd Jr., the victim’s son, who was 5 at the time of the crime, told authorities he suddenly recalled seeing Slutzker with Mudd Jr.’s mother the night of the murder.
Investigators reopened the case, and in 1992, Slutzker was convicted of the elder Mudd’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. Slutzker has maintained his innocence.
“I’ve been sentenced to die in prison for a 42-year-old crime I absolutely did not commit,” said Slutzker in an MJP interview last year at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette in La Belle, Pennsylvania. Slutzker is preparing a habeas corpus petition to challenge his conviction in federal court, said Erika Kreisman, his former attorney. Slutzker could not be reached for comment.
In a recent letter to MJP, Slutzker wrote he hopes Ramsey’s involvement will lead to new evidence that could ultimately result in his release from prison.
“When [the federal judge] sees all of the additional … discovery violations, she will rule deliberate prosecutorial misconduct,” Slutzker wrote.
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
Slutzker’s older brother, Norman Slutzker, said he trusts Ramsey’s 27 years of experience in law enforcement and his wide-reaching network in the Pittsburgh area.
“I’m glad this investigator is on board,” Norman said. “I don’t know what outcome this would bring, but I hope he finds some useful information.”