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Arrest made in Arnold double murder

| Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 2:52 p.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Arnold double-murder suspect Robert Briestensky of Brackenridge, center, is led by, from left, Arnold police Officer Ryan Olszewski and Westmoreland County detectives Terry Kuhns and Paul Burkey for his arraignment at District Justice Frank Pallone's office in New Kensington on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
Submitted
Lance Holt was found dead in an Arnold home late Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Also discovered in the home was the body of his mother, Bonnie Broadwater.
Submitted
Bonnie Broadwater was found dead in her Arnold home late Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. Also discovered in the home was the body of her son, Lance Holt.

Investigators believe a Brackenridge man beat two Arnold residents to death with a baseball bat last fall over a $700 drug debt.

Arnold police and West-moreland County detectives on Wednesday charged Robert E. Briestensky, 39, of Seventh Avenue, Brackenridge with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Bonnie Lee Broadwater and her adult son, Lance Holt.

Briestensky declined to comment as he was led from the courtroom of District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr. in New Kensington following his arraignment.

Arnold police found Broadwater, 46, and Holt, 24, dead inside their Third Avenue home shortly before midnight on Oct. 4 after a concerned friend knocked on the door and a puppy inside disturbed a curtain, revealing one of the bodies.

“It was a very violent crime,” Arnold police Chief William Weber said on Wednesday. “It was senseless.”

Autopsies conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht indicated both victims died from multiple skull fractures caused by blunt-force trauma to the head, according to court documents. Both victims suffered other injuries, the documents stated.

Police found a bloody wooden baseball bat in the house, as well as a ball cap and jacket they believe were worn by Briestensky.

Weber said Briestensky became a suspect early in the investigation when they learned he allegedly owed Broadwater $700 for prescription drugs she had sold him. Weber said police believe the debt was outstanding for several months and Broadwater had contacted Briestensky about the money shortly before her death.

Weber said they believe Briestensky went to the house on or about Sept. 28 to discuss the debt. At some point, police believe Briestensky attacked Broadwater.

“We feel he was embarrassed” by the debt, Weber said. Briestensky told police the debt already had been repaid, according to court documents.

Weber said police believe Holt was in another part of the house when he overheard the argument and came to his mother's aid, leading Briestensky to beat him as well.

A state police crime lab analyzed the bat, ball cap and a jacket found in the house for DNA evidence. Court documents indicate Briestensky's DNA matched samples found on the sweatband of the ball cap, the collar of the jacket and the grip of the bat.

Although Briestensky was a suspect early on, Weber said police had to wait for the lab results to file charges.

Police twice interviewed Briestensky in October. During the first interview two days after the deaths were discovered, Briestensky denied owning the cap or jacket.

During a second interview two weeks later, Briestensky claimed the hat was his and fell off in Broadwater's car in July. He said he'd never recovered it, despite having visited her house several times since, according to court documents.

Weber said police believe Broadwater and Holt had been dead about five days before their bodies were found. They were last seen alive on Sept. 28, according to court records.

When police interviewed a relative with whom Briestensky lives, she told them Briestensky was home all day on Sept. 28 until 5 or 6 p.m. when he left to go to a festival in Tarentum, court records state.

She told police he returned about 10 p.m., said he was sick, took several garbage bags and stayed in his room until Oct. 3, according to court documents.

Briestensky told police he did not go to the festival because he was ill, according to court documents.

Since there were no signs of forced entry or robbery and the home was left locked, Weber said police always suspected the murderer was an acquaintance of Broadwater and Holt.

“From day one, we didn't think it was random,” Weber said.

Briestensky is not eligible for bail, and Pallone ordered him to the Westmoreland County jail until his preliminary hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for March 21.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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