Guilty verdict overturned in Phoenixville assault case

WEST CHESTER – A Phoenixville man has escaped the likelihood of a 25-to-50 year sentence in state prison for essentially punching out his former girlfriend in a drunken dispute.

On Friday, Common Pleas Court Senior Judge Ronald Nagle overturned a guilty verdict against Michael G. Ferko on a single charge of aggravated assault by attempting to cause serious bodily injury that was handed down by a jury in his courtroom on Dec. 4.

The conviction on that count meant that the prosecution could invoke the state’s “three strikes” law for violent felons, which calls for a minimum state prison term of 25 years, and the possibility of a life sentence. Ferko has two prior convictions involving attacks on women.

But immediately following the verdict, Assistant Public Defender Susanna DeWese, who represented Ferko at the trial, asked Nagle to set the verdict on that count aside. She had argued that the evidence in the case did not support the verdict, and noted that the jury had acquitted her client on the charge of aggravated assault by causing serious bodily injury.

In a brief proceeding Friday, Deputy District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco, who prosecuted the case, reiterated to Nagle that he would ask that the mandatory sentence be imposed against Ferko. He said he had consulted with his supervisors in the District Attorney’s Office on the matter, and that they agreed.

Nagle, who noted that he had expressed his concern about the conviction to Ost-Prisco earlier in the week, then took the rare step of throwing out the jury’s verdict on that count. “I have serious reservations about the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain that charge,” Nagle said in granting DeWese’s motion for judgment of acquittal.

Ferko, 52, of Bridge Street, who was in court for the announcement, said nothing during the proceeding. He will still be sentenced on the other charges the jury found him guilty of – simple assault and terroristic threats –which do not count against the “three strikes” sentencing provision. He is also awaiting trial on charges relating to the theft of copper wire from Verizon utility poles in Phoenixville.

Neither Ost-Prisco nor DeWese offered any comment on Nagle’s action.

According to testimony during the trial, the victim, Jennifer McCray Selfinger, told police that she and Ferko had gotten into an argument in the early morning hours of Jan. 21. He grabbed her at some point and punched her several times in the face and chest, and told he was going to kill her.

In her testimony, Selfinger told the jury that Ferko became angry because she wanted to continue to party and drink alcohol and he wanted to go to bed. Both were intoxicated, she said. The assault occurred sometimes around 5 a.m. at the apartment they shared.

A doctor from Phoenixville Hospital testified Selfinger had suffered a fractured rib, a punctured eardrum, and a broken tooth. But Ost-Prisco was able to convince the jury they could infer from the punches he threw that his intent was to cause more injury than the victim had actually suffered.

Ferko’s past convictions include a 1983 sentence for attempted rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, indecent assault and related charges, for which he was sentenced to 22 months to 54 months in state prison. According to court documents, Ferko grabbed a woman who worked as a bartender at the Hungarian American Club in Phoenixville around midnight on Jan. 24, 1981, and tried to rape her.

In March 1996, Ferko was arrested and charged with beating up his then-girlfriend, telling her, “You’re going to visit the morgue today.” She suffered a black eye and broken ribs, and he was sentenced as part of a plea agreement to 15 to 36 months in state prison.

Ferko was returned to Chester County Prison to await sentencing by Nagle at a future date.