Judge to rule on separating trials of Latrobe woman accused in fatal police standoff

Renatta Signorini
| Friday, May 16, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Westmoreland County judge must decide whether two cases against a Latrobe woman accused of stealing a gun that later allegedly was used in a robbery and a police standoff will be tried separately or together.

Julian Upholster, 26, is accused of taking a handgun and an assault rifle from a roommate on July 17 and giving them to her boyfriend, Scott M. Murphy, 46.

Murphy allegedly used the handgun when he robbed Precision Care Pharmacy in Latrobe the next day and had both firearms during a 17-hour standoff and gunbattle with police that left him dead and a state trooper wounded, according to court documents.

Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan argued Thursday that the cases should be tried together because the facts in both are identical.

Defense counsel Michael Ferguson said that trying the cases together would be prejudicial to Upholster. She would not be able to testify in her defense about one case and remain silent about the other, he argued.

A hearing will be held later to determine if Upholster's statements to police after the standoff can be used as trial evidence. The statements were illegally obtained through “coercive tactics” by state police, even though Upholster said she wanted to consult an attorney, Ferguson argued in a pretrial motion.

Upholster is charged with illegal possession of a firearm, theft, firearms not to be carried without a license, robbery and two counts each of receiving stolen property and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Judge Rita Hathaway must first consider whether prosecutors have enough evidence on the case alleging that Upholster stole the weapons.

Sheriff's Deputy John Varnise testified briefly Thursday that Upholster does not have a permit or license to carry a firearm.

Upholster was not allowed to have a firearm because of a felony conviction. She pleaded guilty to an armed robbery at a Unity Eat'n Park on June 24, 2008, and was sentenced in August 2008 to 11 12 to 23 12 months in jail.

Ferguson is asking Hathaway for funds to pay for a private investigator or an expert to assess Upholster's mental and physical condition at the time of the incidents, according to the motion.

The defense attorney was privately obtained, but the suspect does not have funds to pay for experts, it said.

Police believe Murphy, armed with the handgun, entered the pharmacy at 2:30 p.m. July 18 and demanded OxyContin, a painkiller. He took off with 140 pills while Upholster allegedly waited outside in a vehicle, court records show.

A license plate number provided by a witness led police to Murphy's Lloyd Avenue home that day. He barricaded himself in an upstairs room, and five other occupants fled.

A state police Special Emergency Response Team negotiated with Murphy through the night while power was shut off in the neighborhood and homes were evacuated.

At 11:41 a.m. July 19, troopers stormed the house. Murphy fired from behind a closed door as troopers climbed a staircase. Witnesses heard at least four gunshots.

At least one bullet struck Trooper Brian King's bulletproof face shield and helmet, which saved his life, police said.

The group retreated and re-entered the home about 20 minutes later. Witnesses heard about 20 shots. Police found Murphy dead of gunshots. Investigators have not disclosed which weapon fired the fatal shots.

Upholster is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison.

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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