NORRISTOWN — When a Perkiomen man accused of vehicular homicide learned detectives found a rifle he allegedly illegally possessed, he told his girlfriend, “it’s the guillotine for me,” according to court papers.
Robert N. Sitler Sr., 44, of the 300 block of Countryside Court, allegedly made the statement in a Dec. 14, 2012, telephone call to his then live-in girlfriend, Denise Dinnocenti, after he was made aware that the firearm was recovered from his home four days earlier by detectives investigating the alleged Lower Pottsgrove vehicular homicide, according to an arrest affidavit.
“Sitler indirectly admits to possessing the rifle,” Montgomery County Detective David Schanes alleged in the criminal complaint.
Sitler allegedly stated, in reference to a potential gun charge, “it’s the guillotine for me” and “that’s an automatic 7 to 10 year sentence,” Schanes alleged in the arrest affidavit.
Sitler faces a pretrial conference hearing next week in county court on a felony charge of persons not to possess or control a firearm in connection with the alleged incident.
With the charge, county detectives alleged they found a .22-caliber rifle, with no serial number, in a closet of Sitler’s home on Dec. 10, 2012, while they were investigating Sitler’s alleged role in the Nov. 12, 2012, crash that claimed the life of 16-year-old Timothy Anthony Paciello Jr., who was crossing East High Street near Sunnyside Avenue in Lower Pottsgrove.
In court papers, authorities allege Sitler was prohibited from possessing a firearm because he has previous felony convictions for burglary and theft.
Detectives observed the gun in a closet when they went to the home to arrest Sitler and Dinnocenti on charges related to the fatal crash, according to a criminal complaint. The gun was observed when Dinnocenti, who was the only one home at the time, asked detectives to retrieve her jacket for her from a closet by a front door, court papers indicate.
During the Dec. 14 phone conversation Sitler allegedly had with Dinnocenti, he told Dinnocenti that it was her fault the gun was found, according to court papers.
Detectives determined the rifle, which was operable, did not belong to anyone else who lived in the home. Others who resided in the home told detectives “they had seen the rifle in the closet only after Robert Sitler had moved into the house,” according to the criminal complaint.
If he’s convicted of the weapons charge, Sitler faces a possible maximum sentence of five to 10 years in prison.
In November, Sitler’s trial on the vehicular homicide charge was postponed after Assistant District Attorney Lauren McNulty appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court a pretrial ruling by Judge Carolyn T. Carluccio, who granted Sitler’s request to prevent a jury from hearing evidence he has a prior manslaughter conviction and consumed alcohol before the crash.
With the charges, McNulty contends Sitler drove in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, struck Paciello and then lied to police and insurance company officials that Dinnocenti was operating the vehicle.
But defense lawyer Scott C. McIntosh has implied the incident was an “unavoidable accident” that involved a pedestrian who was wearing dark clothing, standing in the middle of the road and possibly talking on a phone.
Several days after the crash, Sitler allegedly admitted to being the driver and claimed he did not want to get into trouble because of his driving history. Court documents indicate Sitler was involved in a fatal crash in Baldwin County, Alabama, in 2004 that resulted in a 2006 manslaughter conviction.
McIntosh convinced Judge Carluccio that allowing a jury to hear evidence of Sitler’s previous conviction would be prejudicial to Sitler, harm the integrity of the presumption of innocence and prevent a fair trial.
McNulty has argued Sitler’s prior conviction is admissible at trial to show his knowledge about the dangers of “recklessness or gross negligence” and is evidence of his motive to lie after the Lower Pottsgrove crash.
Dinnocenti, 43, most recently of the first block of West 9th Avenue, Collegeville, broke all ties with Sitler last fall when she pleaded guilty to obstructing administration of law, insurance fraud and related charges, admitting she lied to police and insurance officials when she claimed she was operating the 2007 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck that fatally struck Paciello. Dinnocenti is awaiting sentencing.
Follow Carl Hessler Jr. on Twitter @MontcoCourtNews