Letters won't be used as evidence in North Union man's homicide trial

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

A letter that a Fayette County man wrote to the woman he is accused of killing in 2013 will not be used as evidence during his trial, a judge ruled on Wednesday.

However, incriminating statements made to police by Henry Clay Crawford, 57, of North Union and other evidence obtained by investigators can be presented by prosecutors, Judge Steve Leskinen ruled in a split decision on Crawford's pretrial motion.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Crawford for allegedly breaking into the North Union home of Lisa Faye Tupta, 49, on Jan. 28, 2013, and fatally stabbing her. Tupta had a protection-from-abuse order against Crawford.

Police found Crawford, with a knife, hiding in the home. He underwent surgery at UPMC Presbyterian for stab wounds.

Tupta's family members have said she was acquainted with Crawford, but they were not in a relationship.

The defense was successful in having letters to Tupta and her son eliminated as evidence.

Leskinen ruled that Crawford had been read his rights against self-incrimination at Uniontown Hospital and had invoked them when a state trooper asked Crawford whether he would like to write the letters, providing him with paper and a pen.

The trooper was “not permitted to initiate further interrogation regarding the incident in question,” Leskinen ruled.

“The letters were incriminating and ... the court finds that defendant clearly did not ... waive his privilege against self-incrimination.”

The letters, which were later given to investigators, have been sealed.

A statement Crawford made to a trooper at UPMC Presbyterian can be used because Crawford initiated a conversation in which he recounted the attack and denied feeling sorry, Leskinen ruled.

Six search warrants were legally obtained, and investigators can use at trial the evidence gleaned from them, Leskinen ruled.

Search warrants were filed for numerous items, including Crawford's clothing, a DNA sample, electronic devices, weapons and data from Tupta's Facebook account.

Leskinen ruled that Crawford is competent to stand trial.

A request for a change of venue because of pretrial publicity was denied, but Leskinen wrote that the motion can be re-entered during jury selection if issues arise in seating an impartial panel.

There are sufficient grounds for prosecutors to seek capital punishment against Crawford, Leskinen ruled.

Cited as aggravating circumstances were previous violations of protection-from-abuse orders; the alleged killing was committed during the course of an alleged felony burglary; torture; and his significant history of felony convictions.

A trial date has not been set for Crawford, who is charged with homicide, burglary and aggravated assault. He is being held in the Fayette County Prison without bond.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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