All-female jury picked for trial of Hempfield man charged with killing wife
Fourteen women were selected on Monday to hear evidence in the first-degree murder trial of a husband accused of killing his wife, a Derry Area Middle School teacher, after a series of fights at the couple's Hempfield home.
The prosecution contends that David Stahl, 43, strangled 37-year-old Rebecca Stahl and dumped her body several days later in a field near the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in February 2012.
The all-female jury was seated from a pool of 56 prospective panelists called to the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on Monday.
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to begin June 23 before Judge Rita Hathaway.
Prosecutors disclosed Monday that 32 potential witnesses are lined up to testify in the case. Defense attorney Donna McClelland said the defense intends to rely on the prosecution's witnesses in an effort to mitigate the killing.
“I believe the commonwealth's evidence will contribute to the defense case. I think once all the facts come out, this jury will render a fair and just verdict,” McClelland said.
For the defense, that would be a conviction to a lesser charge, such as third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, offenses that carry prison terms that could potentially allow Stahl to eventually seek freedom.
A first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The prosecution is expected to present evidence that David Stahl returned home from a night of drinking at several local bars when he was confronted by his wife. The couple had argued several times earlier that day, according to court documents.
David Stahl strangled his wife as she attacked him with a knife, according to a statement he gave to police.
Stahl kept his wife's body in a shed for about two days before dumping it on Feb. 20 in a field near the airport in Unity, according to prosecutors' theory of the case outlined in court documents.
Police said Stahl put his muddy clothing and boots in a plastic bag and stashed them in a basement freezer in the couple's home.
Police seized the bag as evidence, along with the charred remains of Rebecca Stahl's workplace identification card and driver's license.
District Attorney John Peck filed court documents on Monday seeking to thwart a potential defense effort to tell jurors that Rebecca Stahl had marijuana in her system prior to her murder.
“It's really not relevant to the murder case. It's something that will be a distraction to the jury, I believe,” Peck said.
The judge will hold a hearing on Thursday to address that motion and other pretrial issues.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.