Flirty spouse at issue in trial over wife's strangling in Hempfield
As Rebecca Stahl lay dead, the husband accused of strangling her was flirting with women in a Greensburg bar, Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said on Thursday.
The revelation was made during a hearing as defense lawyers asked Judge Rita Hathaway to rule that 12 female jurors would not learn that David Stahl picked up a woman and took her home on Feb. 22, 2012, as police and family members searched for Rebecca Stahl.
At that point, her body was either in a shed at the couple's Hempfield home or discarded in a field, according to police.
David Stahl, 43, is charged with first-degree murder for the February 2012 strangulation of his 37-year-old wife, a Derry Area Middle School teacher. Testimony in his trial is scheduled to begin on Monday.
Peck said he wants the jury to hear testimony from two women with whom Stahl allegedly flirted — two days before his wife's body was discovered on Feb. 24, 2012, in a field near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.
“She's dead and he's out at a bar telling people she left him, and he's trying to pick up women,” Peck said.
Police contend Stahl returned home after a night of drinking on Feb. 18. 2012, when he and his wife got into a fatal confrontation.
Stahl eventually removed the body from the house, police said.
In an attempt to cover up the crime, he put his muddy clothing and boots in a plastic bag and stashed them in a basement freezer in the couple's home, police said.
Police seized the bag as evidence, along with the charred remains of Rebecca Stahl's workplace identification card and driver's license.
The prosecution contends Stahl spent the next several days telling family members that his wife had disappeared.
Two women, one of whom went home with Stahl, are on the prosecution's witness list to testify that they met him at Mr. Smitty's Place on Feb. 22, 2012.
He told the women that his wife had left him for another man. “He also made disparaging remarks about (his wife),” Peck said.
Defense attorney Matt Schimizzi argued that Stahl's actions in the bar and any subsequent dalliance are not relevant in the murder case. “It's character evidence that is inadmissible,” Schimizzi said.
Hathaway said she will rule on the pretrial motions on Friday morning. The judge denied a prosecution motion that sought to bar evidence that Rebecca Stahl had marijuana in her system at the time of her death.
The judge said an autopsy report, which will be introduced into evidence, noted the finding.
Defense attorney Donna McClelland said Stahl's marijuana use will be an important part of the trial,
“It was the reason for the argument that night. She yelled at him for drinking, and he yelled at her for smoking dope, and it went off from there,” McClelland said.
Defense attorneys will ask the jury to find David Stahl guilty of a lesser charge, such as third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.