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Westmoreland DA: Stahl killed wife, dumped her 'like garbage'

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, June 23, 2014, 12:44 p.m.
Rebecca Stahl
submitted
Rebecca Stahl
David Stahl
submitted
David Stahl

David Stahl strangled his wife and “discarded her like garbage,” Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck told a jury on Monday morning.

And while Rebecca Stahl's family searched for her for five days, her husband told police a series of stories to try to cover up her disappearance, according to the prosecution.

David Stahl, 43, is on trial for allegedly killing his wife in February 2012 as a result of a drunken fight in the couple's Hempfield home.

Peck is seeking a conviction of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life prison sentence.

Rebecca Stahl's naked body, wrapped in a blanket, was discovered by investigators on Feb. 24, 2012, in shrubbery along a road near Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity.

“She was found despite the very best efforts to conceal and hide the body and her death,” Peck said in his opening statement in the trial before Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway.

Every seat in the courtroom's gallery was filled as Peck told the all-woman jury that Rebecca and David Stahl had a violent history that predated their wedding on Independence Day 2009. In an assault two years earlier, David Stahl gave her a black eye and tore a clump of hair from her head, the prosecutor said.

“I'm sure people who were at the wedding hoped their worst fears would not be realized. But before their three-year anniversary, those fears would be realized,” Peck said.

Four prosecution witnesses told the jury that Rebecca Stahl, who was recovering from a hysterectomy three weeks earlier, had trouble moving around and it appeared she had not voluntarily left her husband.

Debra Lynn Morrison, a friend and a retired math teacher who worked with Rebecca Stahl in Derry Area School District, said they met for lunch on Feb. 17.

Morrison said Stahl was depressed about her surgery but was enthusiastic about the prospects for adoption. Morrison testified she showed no fear of her husband that day.

Peck asked whether Rebecca Stahl was ever afraid of her husband.

“Oh, many times,” Morrison replied.

Police officers testified they started to investigate Rebecca Stahl's disappearance on Feb. 21, 2012, when her father filed a missing person's report.

Police searched the Stahl home twice that day and questioned David Stahl, state Trooper Thomas Kaecher said.

Stahl told police he went out drinking on Feb. 18 and eventually returned home. The couple spent Sunday, Feb. 19, together before retiring for the night.

He awoke the next day and went to work. When Stahl returned home, his wife was gone, he told police.

Kaecher testified that police found a well-kept home, along with fresh repairs to drywall in the basement and a new bathroom door that appeared to be freshly cut on top.

Police sensed Stahl was lying when questioned about the door.

“He appeared to be nervous. At no point ... did he express concern about trying to find Rebecca,” Kaecher said.

Defense attorney Donna McClelland conceded that Stahl had lied to police but said his actions did not constitute first-degree murder. McClelland told jurors that Stahl should be found guilty of a lesser charge such as third-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter.

“This is the story of marriage,” McClelland repeatedly told jurors.

The Stahls fought that night, and “what he does, he does,” McClelland said. “In my opinion, what he did after is the act of panic.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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