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Defense wants police statements blocked in Connellsville homicide case

| Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A father and son charged in the murder of a Connellsville man in 2011 want their statements to police excluded as trial evidence.

Robert Leroy Daniels Jr., 42, and his son, Robert Leroy Daniels III, 18, both of 233B E. Apple St., are charged with homicide in the June 2011 death of David Gida.

Police said Gida died of stab wounds to the neck in his South Pittsburgh Street apartment, according to criminal complaints. A gold necklace, silver ring and other items were missing.

During a preliminary hearing in October, police said the younger Daniels told them he held the victim's head while his father stabbed Gida. After Gida brought his hand up to the wound, the older Daniels then stabbed Gida again through his hand, according to police.

Connellsville Sgt. Ryan Reese testified the father confessed after he was shown his son's written statement.

In two pretrial motions, the Daniels' attorneys, William and Lea T. Bickerton of Pittsburgh, seek to bar as evidence both men's statements to police and physical evidence gathered in the case.

Hearings on the requests are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 18 before President Judge John F. Wagner Jr.

Lea Bickerton argues Daniels III's statements are inadmissible because “an intellectual disability and language processing disorder” rendered him incapable of waiving his rights to remain silent and to seek an attorney when he was questioned by Reese.

Failure to accommodate the disability, Lea Bickerton argues, “is the functional equivalent of failing to use the services of a translator for an individual who does not speak English.”

She contends her client “was compelled to write” three statements that contradict each other and the physical evidence.

According to a copy of a Connellsville police report attached to one motion, Daniels III told officers the stabbing occurred during an argument over drugs.

Gida took pills from Daniels Jr. to sell, the son told police, but Gida returned to the apartment without the pills or any cash.

Gida and Daniels Jr. were arguing at the kitchen table when Daniels Jr. ordered his son to hold Gida, according to the police report.

“Robert III then placed his left hand around the torso and right hand on the forehead of Gida and pulled him back, exposing his neck,” Reese wrote. “Robert III then stated that his father stabbed Gida in the neck twice, the second time through the hand of Gida.”

William Bickerton argues Daniels Jr.'s statements should be suppressed because he requested an attorney, but then spoke to officers without one present when they told him both he and his son were to be charged criminally.

“After this coercive statement by the police, the police obtained a verbal and written confession by the defendant,” Bickerton wrote.

According to the police report, Reese and state Trooper John Marshall stopped questioning Daniels Jr. when he asked for an attorney.

When the officers then advised Daniels Jr. that he and his son faced charges, Daniels Jr. told them his son “had nothing to do with it. I killed Gida.”

The report said officers again stopped Daniels Jr. from speaking and reminded him of his request.

“Daniels stated he no longer wanted an attorney,” Reese wrote. “I asked him if he wanted a free attorney, and he said no. I asked him if wanted to call a private, paid attorney, and he said no. I then asked him if he wanted to speak with police without legal representation, and he stated yes.”

Police illegally obtained another incriminating statement, according to William Bickerton, when an officer asked Daniels Jr. “what was on his mind” as they were heading to the booking center in Uniontown.

Daniels Jr. told the officer, “I killed a man, and I have to own up to it. I hope my son tells the truth because he had nothing to do with it,” the report said.

In addition, the two men are charged with robbery, theft and receiving stolen property. Daniels Jr. faces two charges of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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