Jeannette woman rescinds murder plea, will head to trial
A Jeannette woman accused of violently beating her boyfriend to death on Thursday withdrew her guilty plea to third-degree murder.
Crystal Belle, 39, pleaded guilty in September for the June 11, 2016, beating death of 19-year-old Khalil Parker, of Brentwood, Allegheny County, in her South Seventh Street home. The deal allowed her to avoid a first-degree murder conviction, which carries a mandatory life prison sentence. She had yet to be sentenced for the third-degree murder conviction, a crime in which she could have received up to 40 years in prison.
Defense attorney Brian Aston said Belle now wants a jury to determine if she is responsible for Parker’s death. Aston in court said that because Belle had yet to be sentenced, the law allows her to withdraw her plea.
Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Feliciani agreed.
“There does appear to be a plausible defense. It’s not like she’s pulling things out of thin air,” Feliciani said.
Aston said Belle will challenge the prosecution’s theory that she intended to kill Parker, tied him up with shoe laces and used a shovel handle to inflict the fatal beating.
Aston said the prosecution’s forensic evidence against Belle does not support its theory that Belle beat Parker to death. Some of Parker’s injuries were inflicted upon him a week prior, when he was attacked in Wilkinsburg. That attack was related to the March 2016 massacre in which five people were killed at a picnic, Aston said in court.
When asked afterward about his suggestion of Parker’s connection to the Wilkinsburg killings, Aston declined to comment.
The defense also contended that Parker sustained other injuries inflicted by rough consensual sex with Belle, he said.
District Attorney John Peck said there was no basis for Belle to rescind her plea and that the prosecution’s case will be prejudiced by her doing so.
“These people just spin the board around to their liking,” Peck said. He said he will consider appealing the judge’s ruling.
To further the prosecution’s potential appeal, county Detective Ray Dupilka briefly testified about his investigation of Parker’s death. Dupilka said large amounts of blood were found at Belle’s home and that a witness later said he provided her a safe house in Ohio to hide out in the days following Parker’s death.
Under questioning from Aston, Dupilka conceded Belle turned herself in after an arrest warrant was issued and that he was unable to say what caused the blood found at the scene and exactly how Parker sustained his injuries.
“If anything, that testimony demonstrates to the court there does appear to be a question of fact that a jury will have to consider,” Feliciani said.
Belle will remain in jail without bond as she awaits trial, which has not been scheduled.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter .