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Derry husband seeks new judge in murder of wife

| Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
submitted
Rebecca Stahl
submitted
David Stahl

The attorney for a Derry man charged with killing his wife wants another county judge to decide whether police conducted legal searches of his home.

Attorney Donna McClelland claims that warrants signed in February by Westmoreland County Judge Debra Pezze were defective, so evidence collected against David Stahl should be excluded as evidence in his upcoming murder trial.

Stahl, 41, is in jail awaiting trial for allegedly strangling his wife, Rebecca, 37, a Derry Area Middle School teacher, at their Seton View Drive home in Hempfield in February.

Pezze, who is presiding over the case, should not hear pretrial motions related to the searches, according to McClelland.

“I'm concerned it might create an issue in the future. We're asking the court to now reverse itself,” McClelland said.

McClelland contends police did not have probable cause to seize items at Stahl's home, including his computer and a Kindle reading device, as well as other evidence found in two cars and elsewhere in the Stahl home.

Pezze said she would be able to reverse her ruling on the legality of the searches if the evidence warranted it but gave McClelland and District Attorney John Peck time to submit legal arguments.

In a court hearing Thursday, Peck opposed removing Pezze from the case.

“Judges typically review their own warrants,” Peck said.

The body of Rebecca Stahl was found on Feb. 24. Her body was wrapped in plastic and blankets and placed in a shrubbery patch, about 25 feet from a Unity Township road near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

The victim's body was discovered four days after family members reported that she had gone missing.

Police allege David Stahl killed his wife during the weekend of Feb. 18-19. Police said that after they argued, David Stahl went out drinking, they argued again by text messages, and he returned home, police charge.

At a preliminary hearing in March, state police Trooper Robert Buford testified that David Stahl confessed to the killing.

Stahl said he returned home to find his wife smoking marijuana, according to testimony. They argued throughout the house and he strangled her as she attacked him with a knife, Buford said.

“I did not do this intentionally. My hands were around her neck trying to keep her away from me,” Stahl said, according to Buford.

Stahl allegedly kept his wife's body in a shed before it was dumped on Feb. 20. Stahl allegedly put his muddy clothing and boots in a plastic bag and placed it in a basement freezer at their home. Police seized that bag as evidence, along with charred remains of Rebecca Stahl's workplace identification card and license, which had been burned.

In the bag were arborvitae leaves, which investigators used to track down the body, left at a former nursery.

In court documents, McClelland said Stahl's confession should be barred from evidence because his constitutional rights were violated when police ignored requests for him to have an attorney present during questioning.

Stahl's trial is scheduled to for March, but that could be delayed, pending the outcome of the pretrial issues.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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