Perkiomen man pleads not guilty to weapons charge

Robert Norman Sitler Jr. was sent to Montgomery County Prison in lieu of $1 million cash bail on charges of homicide by vehicle, insurance fraud, false reports, corruption of minors, conspiracy, reckless driving, speeding and other related charges stemming from a crash that killed a Pottsgrove high school student. (Photo by John Strickler/21st Century Media)

NORRISTOWN — A Perkiomen man awaiting trial on charges of vehicular homicide has pleaded not guilty to new charges that he also illegally possessed a rifle.

Robert N. Sitler Sr., 44, of the 300 block of Countryside Court, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in Montgomery County Court to a felony charge of persons not to possess firearms in connection with a December 2012 incident at his home.

Sitler, who entered the not guilty plea before Senior Judge Arthur R. Tilson, will now be scheduled for trial on the charge. A conviction of the charge carries a possible maximum sentence of five to 10 years in prison.

Sitler remains in the county jail pending trial.

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 his live-in girlfriend, Denise 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. When Sitler learned detectives found the rifle in his home he allegedly told his girlfriend in a Dec. 14 phone conversation, “it’s the guillotine for me” and “that’s an automatic 7 to 10 year sentence,” according to court papers.

“Sitler indirectly admits to possessing the rifle,” Montgomery County Detective David Schanes alleged in the criminal complaint.

Detectives determined the rifle, which was operable, did not belong to anyone else who lived in the home.

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