Search warrants in Unity woman’s disappearance to remain sealed
Seventeen search warrants detailing the investigation into last year’s disappearance of a Unity woman will remain under seal, at least for another month, a Westmoreland County judge ruled Monday.
Following a closed-door hearing with two county prosecutors and a state police trooper, Common Pleas Court Judge Tim Krieger ordered the documents pertaining to the search for Cassandra Gross remain private for 30 more days.
Gross was last seen in April 2018. In January, a county judge declared her legally dead.
In court documents filed earlier this year and again in court Monday, prosecutors said the investigation into her disappearance is still ongoing. Family members said Gross, who would have turned 53 this year, was likely killed. State police investigators are treating her disappearance as a homicide.
Searches by family and police in and around the Unity area, including last weekend, and on property owned by her former boyfriend have not turned up any clues as to her whereabouts or has led to criminal charges related to her disappearance.
In court Monday, Assistant District Attorneys Jim Lazar and Pete Flanigan argued public release of details in the search warrants, all first executed last year, could jeopardize the investigation.
Dante Bertani, the private defense attorney for Gross’ former boyfriend, Thomas Stanko, said his client should be allowed to see details in the warrants.
“They sealed it without letting us know if this is a fishing trip or what basis there is. We have no idea what they want,” Bertani said.
Stanko, 48, of Unity, is in federal custody awaiting trial on gun charges. He is also awaiting trial on a series of allegations in Westmoreland County, including charges he was in possession of a stolen ATV police said they found while searching his property as part of the investigation into Gross’ disappearance. Stanko was charged with fraud and other offenses as the search for Gross continued.
Stanko has denied any involvement in Gross’ disappearance.
In court documents filed in June that argued for the search warrants to remain sealed, prosecutors said police searched Stanko’s Google account information and his home internet router, data from his telephone provider and information relative to LensCrafters. Investigators searched property on White Fence Lane, where Stanko’s mother lives. They reviewed Gross’ cellphone and internet records.
Lazar said the sensitive nature of the investigation should outweigh the public’s interest in hearing details about why the search warrants should remain under seal.
“The public has a very strong interest in ensuring their agencies are doing what they can to bring justice, whether it is Mr. Stanko or someone else is a murderer,” Lazar said.
Krieger agreed and closed the courtroom to the public over objections from the Tribune-Review, which requested that the proceedings happen in open court.
The judge allowed a brief public argument as to whether the hearing should be conducted behind closed doors, noting there is a public interest in the case.
Gross’ family did not attend Monday’s hearing. Family members and friends a day earlier conducted another search in and around the Unity Cemetery for the missing woman.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .