ShareThis Page
Westmoreland

Judge rejects appeal of Hempfield husband convicted of killing wife

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
David Stahl
David Stahl

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 rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me