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Westmoreland jury convicts Stahl of first-degree murder in wife's killing

submitted - David Stahl
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>submitted</em></div>David Stahl
submitted - Rebecca Stahl
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>submitted</em></div>Rebecca Stahl

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Friday, June 27, 2014, 1:27 p.m.
 

A Westmoreland County jury of 12 women convicted David Stahl of first-degree murder for strangling his wife in February 2012.

After the verdict was returned about 8:15 p.m. Friday, Judge Rita Hathaway immediately sentenced Stahl to life in prison.

Stahl, 44, of Hempfield killed Rebecca Stahl, a 37-year-old math teacher, on the night of Feb. 19, 2012, when he returned from drinking at a bar, according to testimony in the five-day trial.

Her body was found five days later, dumped in a Unity field near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. After her family reported her missing, David Stahl claimed to know nothing of her whereabouts, police officers testified.

The jury deliberated for more than five hours before returning the verdict. Some members of the panel were crying as they returned to the jury box.

Rebecca Stahl's family embraced as the verdict was announced.

Her brother, Tom Anderson, said justice was served with the verdict.

“My sister, Becky, was treated like garbage at the end of her life,” he said. “Becky was a lovable person and, unfortunately, gave her heart to a horrible man who was apparently not taught you never hit a woman under any circumstance.”

Stahl cried as he was handcuffed by sheriff's deputies and led out of the courtroom, When a reporter asked if he had anything to say to his wife's family, Stahl responded, “I'm sorry.”

“He brutally killed my sister,” said Kelly Beltz. “We grieve for her every day.”

District Attorney John Peck told jurors there was no doubt David Stahl intended to kill his wife.

Peck said Stahl attempted to cover up the crime when he burned Rebecca Stahl's belongings, including her identification cards, and then dumped her body.

“It's the work of someone with criminal intent on his mind,” Peck said.

Defense attorney Donna McClelland asked the jury to convict Stahl of third-degree homicide or voluntary manslaughter, saying he did not intend to kill her.

Peck told jurors that Stahl had abused his wife for years and physically overwhelmed her when he strangled her for at least 30 seconds, crushing her windpipe.

“He wanted her dead. He wanted her killed. He showed no remorse after he killed her,” Peck said.

Stahl and his wife had exchanged a series of angry texts over him drinking at a bar before he came home and they got into a violent argument, according to testimony.

“Ten seconds in the middle of a fight is not enough to make a clear, concise decision,” McClelland told jurors.

In a basement freezer in the couple's home, police officers testified, they found the victim's partially burned identification cards, some of her other personal effects, muddy boots and bits of shrubbery, similar to that found in the field where the body had been discarded, according to testimony.

Before the body was discovered, Stahl went drinking in Greensburg bars, where he flirted with other women and gave away his wedding ring so he would appear unattached, prosecution witnesses said.

McClelland said Stahl's actions after killing his wife were stupid and inexplicable, but not proof of a plan to kill.

“This is a man who did not intend to kill his wife, was appalled at what he did and wanted to get caught for it,” McClelland said.

Stahl did not testify in his own defense.

Jurors heard a taped confession he gave to police. He said he did not intend to kill his wife, a Derry Area School District teacher on leave after a undergoing a hysterectomy.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.Staff writer Alicia McElhaney contributed to this report.

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