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Arnold double murder case headed to court

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 1:27 p.m.
Arnold double murder suspect Robert Briestensky.
Robert Briestensky of Brackenridge. Official mugshot.

Homicide charges were held for court Thursday against a Brackenridge man charged with beating two Arnold residents to death last fall with a baseball bat.

Robert E. Briestensky, 39, of Seventh Avenue, Brackenridge, is charged with two counts of homicide and two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Bonnie Broadwater, 46, and her son, Lance Holt, 24.

Arnold police and Westmoreland County detectives last week charged Briestensky after DNA testing linked him to a baseball cap and jacket found at the scene. The items were covered with Broadwater's and Holt's blood, according to police.

Police believe Broadwater and Holt had been dead about five days before their bodies were found on Oct. 4.

Briestensky's preliminary hearing was Thursday before District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr. in New Kensington.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck called as witnesses two Westmoreland County detectives. They presented DNA reports and autopsy results on Broadwater and Holt that the prosecution said prove Briestensky intentionally committed the murders.

“There was blood on all four walls, the floor and ceiling,” Westmoreland County Detective Hugh Shearer testified. He said a 28-inch youth baseball bat that was used in the crime was “saturated” with blood and had long black hairs matted into the wood.

He testified that police found the bat wrapped in a blanket in the living room of the Third Avenue home where the two were killed. The ball cap and jacket were under a pile of clothes near a washing machine in the kitchen.

A state police crime lab analyzed the items for DNA evidence.

Briestensky's DNA matched samples found on the sweatband of the ball cap, the collar of the jacket and the grip of the bat, according a report submitted as evidence at the hearing.

Autopsies conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht showed that the victims suffered “extensive” blunt force trauma to the head and face.

Westmoreland County Detective Ray Dupilcka, who observed the autopsies, testified that based on his experience the injuries suffered by both individuals could have been inflicted with a baseball bat.

Broadwater suffered what Peck described as “defensive injuries” — a fractured arm bone, elbow and hand, as well as several broken fingers.

“The fact that the defendant inflicted such violence and injuries clearly indicates an intention to kill them,” Peck said.

Police believe Briestensky killed the two because he was “embarrassed” over a drug debt.

Arnold police Chief William 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 they believe Briestensky went to the house to discuss the debt on or about Sept. 28, the last day Broadwater and Holt were seen alive, according to court records.

At some point, police believe Briestensky attacked Broadwater, then attacked Holt when he came to his mother's aid.

Briestensky's attorney, Greg Cecchetti, with the Westmoreland County Public Defender's Office, asked Pallone to dismiss the charges saying that the prosecutor hadn't presented evidence that definitively linked Briestensky to the crimes.

He argued that because the DNA test doesn't indicate the age of the sample collected, “we don't know when it got there.

“Nothing has been presented that shows my client was the one who swung the bat and caused the deaths of those individuals,” Cecchetti said.

During an Oct. 6 police interview, Briestensky denied owning the cap or jacket.

But 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, though he had visited her house several times since, according to court documents.

Briestensky told police he was at home on Sept. 28.

Briestensky's sister, with whom he lives, told police her brother was home all day on Sept. 28, then left around 6 p.m. to go to a festival in Tarentum, court records state.

She said 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.

He is being held in the Westmoreland County jail without bail.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at jweigand@tribweb.com.

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