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Wecht testifies about strangulation of Derry math teacher

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 1:05 p.m.

As police searched for David Stahl's missing wife, he was in a Greensburg bar trying to persuade a woman to go home with him, witnesses testified on Wednesday in Westmoreland County court.

Patricia Tarver testified she agreed to take Stahl's wedding ring to help him seal the deal with the woman, who was reluctant because he was married.

“At some point the conversation got weird and uncomfortable. ...(She) said, ‘You're married.' He said, ‘(Expletive) my wife, she left me. (Expletive) this ring.' He proceeded to take it off, and I took his ring,” Tarver testified.

The next time Stahl saw the ring was when it was shown to the jury in court on Wednesday, the third day of Stahl's trial for first-degree murder.

Prosecutors have said that Stahl's encounter with Tarver occurred on Feb. 22, 2012, three days after he is accused of killing his wife. Rebecca Stahl, 37, a math teacher at Derry Area Middle School.

Police contend Stahl returned to his Hempfield home after a night of drinking early on the morning Feb. 19, 2012, and strangled Rebecca. Five days later, her nude body was discovered in a field of shrubs about 2 miles from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

The defense maintains David Stahl acted in the heat of passion, provoked by his wife, and is seeking a conviction to a lesser charge of third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

In her testimony, Tarver didn't give the date that she met Stahl, but said she had two encounters with him in February, both at Mr. Smitty's Place.

At the first meeting, Stahl claimed his wife had left him for another man, Tarver testified.

When she saw him again a few days later, Tarver told jurors Stahl flirted with another woman at Mr. Smitty's and again when a group of people went to an after-hours club in Greensburg.

She said Stahl talked about his wife's disappearance and said police had confiscated his car.

“He said her family was investigating her being missing, and he said they always look at family first,” Tarver testified.

Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht testified Rebecca Stahl died when pressure was applied to both sides of her neck with force so great it broke her windpipe.

Wecht told jurors Rebecca Stahl was strangled for at least 30 seconds and had little chance to survive.

“With injuries such as these, death is almost certainly inevitable,” Wecht told the jury of 12 women hearing the case before Judge Rita Hathaway.

Stahl told police he was upset with his wife because she had been smoking marijuana.

Wecht testified he found a trace amount of marijuana in the victim.

“The level was quite low. It had no effect,” Wecht testified. “It could be from being in the same area as someone smoking it.”

Wecht said she also had a small amount of an antidepressant in her blood.

Rebecca Stahl recently had undergone a hysterectomy and was still in pain from surgery, family members told police.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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