$66K sought from Hempfield man's retirement account by victim's family
While wife killer David Stahl tried to get his conviction dismissed on Monday, prosecutors asked that Stahl be ordered to pay more than $66,000 to his wife's family and their lawyers.
“He's responsible for the costs incurred as a result of the homicide. It's not unreasonable to request it be paid for,” Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck argued.
A jury in June convicted Stahl, 44, of Hempfield of first-degree murder for the February 2012 strangulation of his 37-year-old wife, Rebecca.
Stahl came home from a drinking binge, argued with his wife and then strangled her with such force he fractured her windpipe, according to trial testimony.
Police said Stahl kept his wife's body in the house for the next day before moving it to a backyard shed and later dumping it in a field of arborvitae shrubs near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.
Stahl destroyed his wife's belongings and identification cards, then lied to police about his wife's whereabouts after her family reported her missing, witnesses said.
After the trial, Stahl was immediately sentenced to life in prison and was ordered by Judge Rita Hathaway to pay $10,000 to Pennsylvania State Police to cover forensic testing of evidence in the case.
Rebecca Stahl's family wants her husband to pay even more.
Her brother, attorney Tom Anderson of North Huntingdon, testified on Monday that legal bills for his sister's estate have exceeded $46,000.
That bill includes about $10,000 in compensation to Anderson for time spent attending David Stahl's trial.
The Pittsburgh law firm of Thomson, Rhodes & Cowie, which employs Anderson, represented the family in matters involving Rebecca Stahl's estate.
In addition, Anderson said, his family is seeking more than $15,000 to pay for funeral and burial expenses, as well as about $6,000 to repay other family members for their time to attend the trial, to repair and clean the Stahl house after the murder and to maintain the home before it was sold.
“But for the murder of my sister, none of those expenses would occur,” Anderson testified.
Anderson said the family is seeking cash from Stahl's $103,000 retirement account.
Defense attorney Donna McClelland told Hathaway that there may be no legal basis to award additional restitution to Rebecca Stahl's family.
McClelland declined to comment after the hearing.
Testimony before Hathaway will continue on Sept. 23 on the restitution issue.
The defense has asked the judge to find that the prosecution failed to adequately prove Stahl was guilty at the trial.
McClelland said prosecutors did not disprove the defense's contention that the killing occurred in self-defense and David Stahl did not intend to kill his wife.
“The commonwealth failed to rebut that Mr. Stahl was acting with passion, rage and emotion,” McClelland said.
Peck told Hathaway the jury verdict was in accordance with the evidence presented at trial.
The judge said she will rule on the appeal after attorneys submit written legal arguments.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.