Forest County DA sets stage for death penalty in fatal stabbings

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 10:09 a.m.

The death penalty is on the table for a Butler man accused in the stabbing death of a Leechburg resident and his girlfriend.

Forest County District Attorney Elizabeth A. Ziegler said she has filed for aggravating circumstances relating to the charges against Scott A. Black that could lead to the death penalty.

Black, 38, is charged in the April 27 slayings of Donald L. Shay, 43, of Leechburg and Marcelle I. Edwards, 42, at her home in Green Township, which is on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest, a few miles east of Tionesta.

Black faces two counts each of criminal homicide and aggravated assault as well as burglary and possessing an instrument of crime.

“It's mostly an issue of there were aggravating factors and to get them preserved,” Ziegler said.

She said the aggravating circumstances — which are required to pursue the death penalty — had to be filed before Black's court arraignment. That was scheduled for June 6 but was postponed to Monday, according to Ziegler.

Ziegler said she gave notice of three aggravating factors: there were multiple victims, the slayings were committed by means of torture and they were committed in the commission of a felony.

The “means of torture,” Ziegler said it was due to how Shay was killed.

“The male victim was stabbed 20 times, so I put that in there,” she said. “It had to be filed; it could always be removed later. The female victim, I threw that on the table more for the emotional end of her having to see her boyfriend stabbed 20 times.”

At Black's May 14 preliminary hearing, Edwards daughter, 15-year-old Alaina Haffey, who lived with her mother, was home when the killings occurred and testified to what she saw.

She said her mother and Black had dated for about four years, lived together during that time and were engaged to be married in August.

But her mother broke off the relationship with Black about a year ago.

Haffey testified that Black “showed up in his truck and barged into the house” late in the evening of April 26.

She said Black was angry and was telling Edwards “Just shoot me, shoot me.” She said when he refused to leave, her mother pushed him out the door.

Later, Haffey said she was sleeping on the couch and awoke to shouting and screaming.

She testified she saw Black and Shay fighting in the kitchen, tried to intervene but was pulled back by her mother. Haffey said she saw Black with a knife in his hand poised over Shay before she ran across the yard to her grandmother's house and told her to call 911.

Haffey also said her mother received a letter from Black about a day prior to the incident stating that Black was going to kill Edwards. Haffey said she didn't read the letter, but said, “I knew (Black) threatened to kill (my mother) because she told me so.”

Ziegler said she is a part-time district attorney and the only prosecutor in Forest County. She said she has held her office January 2008 and was a public defender in the county for nine years prior to that.

Before the April slayings, Ziegler said the county's last homicides occurred last year. One was the slaying of an inmate allegedly by another inmate in August in the state prison in Forest County. The other was a wife who allegedly shot her husband in November.

To that point, she said the last homicide in the county occurred around 1996.

In fact, Forest County President Judge Maureen Skerda had to reach outside the county to find an attorney to represent Black.

Ziegler said, “We have no death penalty-certified defense attorneys in the county.”

She said John Ingros, a defense attorney from Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, was appointed to handle Black's defense.

Contacted Tuesday, Ingros said he really could not comment on the case.

“To be honest, no, and the only reason I say that is I just got my order in the mail from the court,” Ingros said.

He said he will read the documents that have been filed before meeting with his client Monday, before the court arraignment at 10 a.m.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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