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Montgomery County lawyer involved in hunting death has checkered past

Daryl Childs says he still feels the effects of the beating he took 25 years ago outside a Norristown gym.

Lawyer David M. Manilla (right) has admitted to fatally shooting Barry Groh of Quakertown, Manilla's attorney said. Groh was illegally deer hunting with a high-powered rifle at the time.
Lawyer David M. Manilla (right) has admitted to fatally shooting Barry Groh of Quakertown, Manilla's attorney said. Groh was illegally deer hunting with a high-powered rifle at the time.Read more

Daryl Childs says he still feels the effects of the beating he took 25 years ago outside a Norristown gym.

Sometimes, he says, his mind still fumbles for words that won't come. Brain damage from the blows kept him from completing college, the unemployed Florida construction worker contends.

"I can't even tell you how much I have been affected by what Dave did to me," Childs, 48, said Wednesday. "Things I was trying to accomplish, I had to put on hold. I had to learn how to read and write all over again."

The "Dave" he blames is David Manilla, the suburban lawyer now under investigation in a Bucks County hunter's Nov. 29 death. Manilla fired the fatal shot, his attorney has acknowledged.

Manilla, 49, was deer hunting illegally with a high-powered rifle when he shot and killed 52-year-old Barry Groh along the edge of Manilla's property. Groh had been dragging a buck he had shot and was killed in a creekbed.

Richard Winters, a lawyer for Manilla, has said his client mistakenly thought he was shooting at a deer when he fired at Groh. Bucks County authorities say they hope to conclude their investigation within the next few days.

Efforts to reach Winters for further comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Manilla's other lawyer, J. David Farrell, declined to comment.

Unlike Childs, Manilla, a Montgomery County lawyer, has suffered relatively little lasting damage from the events of Feb. 22, 1985, the night he attacked the hospital orderly outside Roberto's Gym in Norristown after an argument.

A 23-year-old Ursinus College graduate at the time, Manilla served four months on work release after admitting he had struck Childs twice in the head with a weightlifting bar. Childs' fractured skull required two operations.

A felony conviction for aggravated assault - plea-bargained down from an attempted-homicide charge - did not keep Manilla from attending law school and becoming a lawyer.

Nor, apparently, did it dissuade him from hunting with guns, despite federal and state laws prohibiting felons from possessing firearms.

All of which galls Childs, who said he received a call as recently as last year from a friend of Manilla's family asking whether he would support a pardon of Manilla's crime. Childs said he told the caller no.

"What about the scars that I bear? What about me?" Childs said Wednesday in an interview. "I don't even know how he was able to possess a law degree and become a practicing attorney."

Manilla earned his law degree in 1991 from the Villanova University School of Law. Asked whether Manilla's felony record was known to the school, a spokesman said policy prohibited discussing details pertaining to individual students.

A felony record does not disqualify a person from becoming a lawyer in Pennsylvania. An applicant is, however, required to disclose a criminal record and typically faces extra scrutiny by the state Board of Law Examiners.

Whether Manilla disclosed his record before being admitted to the state bar in 1992 is not known. Records from that year no longer exist and would be considered confidential, said Gicine Brignola, executive director of the board, an arm of the state Supreme Court.

"There's no such thing as being permanently disqualified from consideration," said Robert H. Davis Jr., a lawyer who represents applicants before the board. "In this kind of case, the person would have to have passed the bar exam and then almost surely would have had a character hearing before a panel of the Board of Law Examiners."

The nature of the crime, the age at which it was committed, and how long ago it occurred would all be considered, said lawyer Samuel Stretton, who also has represented applicants. "With serious crimes of violence, like murder or an aggravated assault where you seriously injured someone, you might never be admitted."

Manilla, though, was admitted to the bar.

The 1985 plea bargain was negotiated by his then-lawyer and uncle, Michael D. Marino, who went on to serve as Montgomery County district attorney and as a county commissioner. Marino was hunting with Manilla last month when Groh was killed, but sources say Marino is not a suspect. He has declined to comment.

Childs contends that Manilla and Marino minimized the severity of his injuries and wrongly portrayed him in court as the aggressor in the 1985 fight.

According to court records, Manilla and a friend of Childs' had argued inside the gym over a woman. When Childs stepped in, the owner of the gym ordered them outside. Manilla took a weightlifting bar with him.

"As soon as I got out the door, he started hitting me," Childs said Wednesday. "I didn't have a chance."

Two blows from the bar fractured his skull as Manilla yelled, "I'm going to kill you," a court affidavit says. Manilla then sucker-punched Childs and bit into his ear.

Childs underwent surgery and had to have part of his skull removed. A plate was put in his head in a second operation.

At Manilla's sentencing, Marino cast Childs as the aggressor. County Court Judge Paul Tressler accepted a plea bargain in which Manilla was sentenced to four to 23 months in the county prison. He was placed on work release and paroled after serving his minimum sentence.

Manilla's felony record did not surface when he was convicted in 1994 of recklessly shooting at another hunter in Schuylkill County. Pottsville lawyer Michael O'Pake, who prosecuted the case, said Manilla's criminal record probably was not checked because the charge was a summary offense and previous convictions have no effect on penalties imposed in such cases.

Last year, Manilla was arrested for shoplifting at a Cabela's outdoor store in Berks County. He was allowed to enter into a pre-adjudication probationary program that would leave him with no record of the offense when completed.

Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams said he approved Manilla for the program because he found no infractions in the 25 years since Manilla's felony conviction.

Adams said he had not known of the Schuylkill County hunting incident, in which a 59-year-old man was wounded in the neck. Summary offenses do not turn up in criminal background checks, Adams said, adding that Manilla's status as a lawyer had no bearing on his decision.

Neither incident had an effect on Manilla's law license.

Manilla did not have to report the 1994 hunting citation to disciplinary officials because it was a summary case. Nor was he required to report the shoplifting case because his probation program carries no record of a conviction.

But Paul Killion, chief disciplinary counsel for the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court, said he would have opened an investigation had he been made aware of either incident.

Childs said his brain damage forced him to drop out of college because he had trouble remembering things. He briefly worked as a police officer but said his antiseizure medications made him drowsy. Caught sleeping on duty one night in Limerick Township, he quit to go into construction work.

He has been jobless for three years, he said, the bottom having fallen out of the construction industry.

"I never really held a grudge, but I never got past that incident," Childs said. "I've struggled ever since."