Decision expected on seizure of Greensburg woman's computers
A decision could be announced on Wednesday on an emergency request to halt West Virginia police from taking custody of a Greensburg woman's computers they suspect contains evidence in a murder investigation.
Police were given access to the computers when Senior Judge Daniel Howsare of Bedford County ruled investigators had sufficient probable cause to take the equipment in September. They were seized by Pennsylvania State Police, but have not been examined by West Virginia investigators.
Ruth Tatka, 59, who works as the legal secretary for Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec, has challenged whether police have the right to seize her home computers.
She said on Tuesday she would appeal Howsare's ruling.
Howsare was asked on Tuesday to grant a temporary stay of his order to allow Tatka to file an appeal. A decision on the stay is pending.
Tatka's nephew and his wife were arrested in June by West Virginia police and are being held in jail as they await trial on murder charges.
Sheriff's deputies in Marion County, W.Va., contend Michael Palmer, 32, and Kristyn Palmer, 30, plotted to kill 62-year-old Earl “Eddie” Wilson on Dec. 11, when he was fatally shot with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Tatka said her nephew is innocent because he acted to protect his life.
West Virginia investigators contend that Michael Palmer, while he was in jail, asked his aunt to rewrite letters and forward the correspondence to his wife, according to court documents filed with the search warrant executed on Sept. 20.
Pennsylvania State Police seized three computers and 33 handwritten letters and envelopes from Tatka's home.
At a hearing before Howsare last month, Tatka testified that she never rewrote any letters for her nephew.
“We believe that Marion County authorities have sufficient information to reasonably conclude that information relevant to their homicide case may be present in the computers and should have an opportunity to examine them to determine whether that is in fact the case,” Howsare ruled. “We would note that it is not uncommon in criminal prosecutions to have items seized with the belief that incriminating evidence is present, but with the need to make a more definitive determination ... .”
Tatka has contended that the West Virginia prosecution is flawed. She has criticized Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck for not protecting her constitutional rights against an illegal search and seizure.
“We did offer West Virginia police an opportunity to look at the hard drives here in Pennsylvania, and they denied that,” Tatka said. Tatka's case has had ramifications on Westmoreland County's criminal court system.
Blahovec has recused himself from hearing cases in which Peck and Tatka's lawyer, Emily Smarto, are involved.
Peck is prosecuting a triple homicide in which the defendant could face the death penalty. The case was transferred to another judge after Blahovec's recusal.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins testing Fleury, Maatta, Bortuzzo for mumps
- Police: Deer rifle in vehicle at Southmoreland High School
- Sony cancels ‘The Interview’ Dec. 25 release
- Parent finds body in parking lot of Stanton Heights elementary school, prompting lockdown
- Son charged in dismemberment death of Penn Hills couple
- Steelers lookahead: Chiefs’ Charles injured but remains dangerous threat
- Route 981 sewage project could cost less
- Former Charlotte coach to lead Riverhounds
- Squirrel Hill lawyer suspended from practicing until September
- Pitt coach Chryst expected to take Wisconsin job
- Ex-Pittsburgh mayoral candidate back in jail