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Lawyer in Arnold murders says he'll have to step down if comments are allowed

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The attorney for an Allegheny County man charged with killing a mother and son in their Arnold home last year said in court on Tuesday that incriminating statements made by witnesses should be excluded from his double murder trial.

During a brief court hearing, Public Defender Greg Cecchetti said statements that two witnesses gave to police are inadmissible because they originated from a declaration made by one victim before her death.

Robert E. Briestensky, 39, of Brackenridge is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Bonnie Broadwater, 46, and her son, Lance Holt, 24.

Police contend Broadwater and Holt were pummeled to death with an object, possibly a baseball bat. Autopsy reports indicated both died from blunt-force trauma to the head.

They had been dead about five days before their bodies were found in the family home on Oct. 4, police said.

DNA in a baseball cap and a jacket found at the scene linked Briestensky to the murders, police contend. The items were covered with both victims' blood, according to court documents.

District Attorney John Peck said police have statements from two witnesses who claimed Broadwater told them Briestensky owed her “hundreds of dollars” for illegal drugs.

The defense contends those statements are hearsay and therefore inadmissible.

“Those statements appear to be inadmissible,” Judge Debra Pezze said.

She deferred ruling on the defense motion to allow Peck time to review and make arguments should he try to use that evidence at trial.

The prosecution has not decided to use those statements, which Peck said Tuesday would give Briestensky a motive for the killings.

“My initial impression is that they are hearsay, but we'll have to look at it,” Peck said.

If the statements are allowed at trial, Cecchetti said he will have to withdraw from representing Briestensky.

The public defender's office previously has represented the two witnesses in unrelated cases, Cecchetti said.

Briestensky's trial was delayed until at least October.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293.

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