Arrest made in Arnold double murder
By Liz Hayes
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 2:48 p.m.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Man to face DUI-homicide trial for Route 28 wreck
- Charges against police chief have Springdale mayor crying foul
- Deer Creek mine discharge project should be wrapped up by late spring
- 1 caught, 1 sought in severe beating in Natrona Heights
- 4 men to stand trial for home invasion, shooting in Lower Burrell
- Tarentum robbery victim chooses not to shoot suspect; 2 in jail
- Saxonburg Dollar General to move, expand
- Kiski Township Zoning Board OKs Verizon’s 19-story cellphone tower
- Coroner ties New Ken man’s death to heroin epidemic
- Latest Guys Run Road crash prompts Harmar to ask for stop sign
- New Kensington man charged with scrap metal theft