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Uniontown man ruled competent to be tried in Connellsville woman's beating death

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County man facing the death penalty in the brutal beating death of a Connellsville woman is competent to stand trial and will be tried separately from his co-defendant, Judge Nancy Vernon ruled on Friday.

A public defender for Paul Jerome Bannasch, 24, of Uniontown requested the competency exam in October by an expert from Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.

The evaluation results were entered into evidence under seal during a brief pretrial motion hearing in response to several requests filed by the defense late last year.

Bannasch and Craig Allen Rugg, 25, of Connellsville face homicide and related charges in the June 22 slaying of Margaret “Peggy Sue” Kriek, 52.

Witnesses told police that the three were drinking in a Connellsville bar and later were seen near the Amtrak station in the city, according to court documents. Police allege that the suspects beat Kriek, strangled her and dumped her body into the Youghiogheny River.

She had blunt-force trauma injuries to the head and body, a rib fracture, a broken neck and lacerations and abrasions to her heels, legs, torso and arms, police said.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Rugg as well.

Search warrants and inventory seized during the investigation of Kriek's death were entered into evidence, as well as transcripts from a joint preliminary hearing for the co-defendants and Bannasch's statement to police.

Public defender Jeffrey Whiteko asked that Vernon use those documents to decide his challenge to the validity of the search warrants.

Whiteko is seeking the suppression of Bannasch's statements to police and wants to block evidence from being presented at trial. Testimony on those matters is scheduled for May 19.

Charges against the men include sexual assault, kidnapping and abuse of a corpse.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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