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Defense in Connellsville murder case fights plan to seek death penalty

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Paul Bannasch (front) and Craig Allen Rugg are led into the Connellsville office of District Judge Ronald Haggerty on July 25, 2013 for a preliminary hearing on homicide charges in the death of Peggy Kriek.

Defense attorneys claim prosecutors have no evidence that a Connellsville woman was conscious or even alive when two men sexually assaulted her and then beat her, as police have charged.

Fayette County prosecutors have filed notice they will ask for the death penalty if they convict Craig Rugg, 25, of Connellsville and Paul Bannasch, 24, of Uniontown of first-degree murder in the June 22 slaying of Margaret “Peggy Sue” Kriek, 52.

Rugg's attorneys, Dianne Zerega of Uniontown and James Geibig of Greensburg, have filed motions seeking to prevent prosecutors from arguing that Kriek was tortured — an aggravating circumstance prosecutors will seek to prove as justification to impose the death sentence.

The two suspects are charged with criminal homicide, kidnapping, aggravated indecent assault and other charges. Witnesses said Bannasch, Rugg and Kriek 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, a rib fracture, a broken neck and cuts and scrapes on her heels, legs, torso and arms, police said.

In addition, the two defense attorneys want a judge to dismiss the case in its entirety. Absent a dismissal, they want Rugg to be tried separately in another county.

The defense team is seeking to keep the prosecution from presenting at trial some evidence and statements. Zerega and Geibig argue that an autopsy report gives no indication Kriek was alive when she was allegedly sexually assaulted and beaten.

“There is no indication in the autopsy report that the victim was alive or deceased at the time the injuries occurred,” the attorneys said in two motions.

They argued statements the two men gave to police indicate Kriek was either unconscious or deceased when most of the injuries were inflicted.

If the case goes to trial, Rugg's attorneys want it to be heard in another county because they contend media coverage in Fayette and surrounding counties would prevent a fair, impartial trial.

They want the case to be tried separately from Bannasch's because Bannasch has made statements against Rugg and “the two defendants will have different and possibly inconsistent defenses,” according to one motion.

The attorneys want to dismiss as evidence Rugg's statements to police because Rugg “was under the influence of controlled substances” when he spoke to the officers, they wrote in one motion.

They argue that police had no probable cause to gather blood evidence and DNA samples from Rugg.

A hearing has not been scheduled on the two motions.

Bannasch's defense team is seeking to block some statements and evidence from being presented at trial. That hearing is scheduled for May 19.

Both men are in the Fayette County Prison without bond.

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

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