Hempfield murder suspect wants statements to police barred from trial
A Hempfield man insists he believed he was under arrest and required to answer questions during an eight-hour police interrogation following the shooting death of his girlfriend two years ago.
Allen Eugene Trent, 55, testified Tuesday that he was handcuffed, placed in a patrol car, driven to the state police barracks and subjected to repeated questions about how 61-year-old Frances Smith was shot and killed Feb. 12, 2017, in the home they shared on Waycross Road in Hempfield.
“Any time you are ever handcuffed, I would assume you are under arrest, never free,” Trent testified. “I’ve always been told when you deal with police to do what you are told.”
Trent is seeking to have statements he gave police barred from evidence at his upcoming murder trial. Smith was found dead in a bed with a gunshot wound to the side of her face. Police recovered two guns, one found in a nearby nightstand and another on the bed behind her legs.
Trent initially told a 911 dispatcher and later police that Smith killed herself. But investigators said Trent eventually incriminated himself during hours of questioning.
“Initially, we thought we were dealing with a suicide until there were admissions near the end (of the questioning),” said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Joseph Lauricia.
He and four other troopers testified that Trent was cooperative at first as they greeted him near the front of his home. Trent, wearing shorts and slippers, immediately placed his arms behind his back when approached, they testified.
The troopers said Trent was handcuffed for safety, moved to a police cruiser to keep warm and eventually transferred to the state police barracks in Greensburg for additional questioning. He spoke to officers in front of his home and in the police cruiser without being asked any questions, according to investigators. During much of the eight hours of the interrogation at the police barracks Trent was not considered a suspect, they testified.
“We told him he was not under arrest,” said now-retired Trooper Michael McElfresh. “He said he wanted to tell us the truth, that he was a good Christian man and wanted to cooperate. We initially thought it was a suicide, so he was free to leave.”
That changed once Trent told investigators that he was involved with Smith’s death.
According to court records, Trent told police he and Smith spent the day drinking at local bars and got into a fight after they returned home that evening. He claimed the fight became physical and that he retrieved a revolver from the living room and carried the weapon to the bedroom, where it discharged when Smith grabbed his arm, police said.
The defense wants Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rita Hathaway to rule that Trent’s statements to police were improperly obtained. Assistant Public Defender Donna McClelland said Trent was in custody as he spoke to police before he was advised of his constitutional right to remain silent and to have legal representation with him during questioning.
Hathaway said she will rule on the defense motion later this year after reviewing written legal arguments submitted by the district attorney and defense lawyers.
A trial date has not be set.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .