Judge won't suppress Hempfield man's confession in wife's death
A Westmoreland County judge has denied a Hempfield man's bid to suppress a statement he gave to police implicating himself in his wife's death.
Judge Debra Pezze ruled that statements David Frank Stahl, 43, made to state police were legally obtained and that nine search warrants troopers used to gather evidence in the case were justified.
“It was two days after his last contact with police that Mr. Stahl affirmatively took steps by asking a corrections officer to contact police for him,” while Stahl was at the county prison, Pezze wrote in an opinion issued on Monday. “It was this voluntary decision to re-initiate contact that led to his interrogation on February 29.”
Stahl is charged with homicide in the February 2012 death of Rebecca Stahl, 37.
David Stahl drank for several hours at a Whitney bar between Feb. 18 and 19, 2012, according to police. Police believe he killed his wife by choking her sometime that weekend and then hid her body at their Seton View Drive home before dumping it at a former nursery in Unity Township on Feb. 20.
Rebecca Stahl's family reported her missing on Feb. 21, 2012, and police found her body three days later.
Defense attorneys wanted to bar as trial evidence Stahl's statement to police on Feb. 29, 2012, and evidence obtained through search warrants. A pretrial hearing was held in April.
Search warrants were obtained by police on Feb. 22, 23 and 24, 2012, for the Stahl residence, two vehicles, electronic devices at the home and cellphone records. Pezze ruled the warrants “contained sufficient probable cause to justify the searches.”
“Given the suspicious circumstances of Mrs. Stahl's disappearance, it was not unreasonable for police to believe that her husband had some involvement in a crime,” Pezze wrote.
Police spoke with Stahl on Feb. 21, and the suspect denied knowing the whereabouts of his wife, who was on medical leave from her Derry Area teaching job after undergoing surgery. The next day, during an interview at the state police station, Stahl requested an attorney, according to testimony from the April hearing.
Trooper Robert Burford testified that he told Stahl to contact the trooper if Stahl wanted to discuss his wife's disappearance.
On Feb. 24, 2012, Rebecca Stahl's body was found and David Stahl was taken to Excela Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, where he spent the weekend. He was arrested upon his release on Feb. 27, 2012, when he refused to speak to investigators.
Two days later, Stahl asked a jail guard to contact police and then admitted to killing his wife during a tape-recorded interview.
Pezze said that because Stahl's statement occurred during a meeting he initiated, it was a “voluntary and uncoerced choice.”
“Mr. Stahl waited two days before contacting police, acknowledged he had not sought or obtained counsel, but agreed to waive his rights and make a statement,” Pezze ruled. “Nothing police did compelled these actions and no further contact with police would have occurred but for Mr. Stahl's own actions.”
Defense attorneys had been asking Pezze to recuse herself from deciding the pretrial motions because she issued the search warrants in the case. Pezze declined to do so.
A March trial is scheduled.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Daughter’s generosity lives on in family
- Honored Westmoreland youth counselor sought in theft of money from clients
- Detaining juveniles charged as adults costs Westmoreland reimbursement money
- Kopas, citing poor state inspection, pushes to end deal for Westmoreland Manor operator
- Record-holding female motorcyclist to speak at Lincoln Highway event
- Greensburg YMCA pool upgrade in works
- Westmoreland County Animal Response Team seeks money for new space
- Greater Latrobe passes resolution to move forward on building new Latrobe Elementary School
- Police: Dirt bike rider struck man, fought officers in Jeannette
- Megan’s List offender charged with assault on 10-year-old Latrobe girl
- Children honor late Ligonier Township officer at Westmoreland Fair