Judge rejects appeal of Hempfield husband convicted of killing wife
A Westmoreland County judge Thursday rejected the appeal of a Hempfield man serving a life prison sentence for the 2012 strangulation of his wife.
Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway in a 19-page opinion said there was no evidence that David Stahl received an inadequate defense during his 2014 murder trial. Stahl, 48, was found guilty of killing his wife, Rebecca, a popular Derry Area School District teacher whose body was discovered in a brush-covered field near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.
Stahl contended his trial lawyers were ineffective because they did not present testimony or properly argue that he was voluntarily intoxicated when he killed his wife.
“Defendant is unhappy that he was convicted of first-degree murder and that counsel’s defense was ultimately not accepted by the jury. He cannot, however, argue that in hindsight a separate defense, and one not supported by the record, could have been more successful,” Hathaway wrote.
She said trial lawyers Donna McCelland and Matthew Schimizzi went to great lengths to pursue all possible avenues of defense for Stahl. They ultimately argued to jurors that Stahl killed his wife in self defense.
The prosecution said at trial that Stahl used both hands to choke his wife to death, applying pressure for nearly a minute before she died.
Prosecutors said that before her death, 37-year-old Rebecca Stahl was a victim of a physically abusive relationship with her husband of three years and that she was killed as she recovered from a recent hysterectomy. The prosecution claimed that after the murder, David Stahl lied to his wife’s family about her whereabouts and hid the body in a shed behind his home for five days before he dumped it in a brush-covered field.
Before her body was discovered, Stahl burned his wife’s belongings and identification, the prosecution said.
Stahl did not testify at his trial, but during an appeal hearing before Hathaway in September he claimed he did not remember putting his hands around her throat or that he intended to kill his wife as she attacked him with a knife.
David Stahl said before that fatal altercation he spent the day drinking alcohol at several local bars, and in court earlier this year conceded he and his wife had marital problems before her death.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.