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Teenager to stand trial for murder

Paul Peirce
| Thursday, June 19, 2003

Sixteen months after a Washington County teen told police he shot his adoptive mother in the back of the head and then sexually abused her corpse, he was ordered to stand trial for the murder.

John Frank Gebauer, now 16, was ordered Wednesday by District Justice Valarie Costanzo, of Cecil Township, to stand trial as an adult on charges of criminal homicide, abusing a corpse, rape, theft, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and receiving stolen property in connection with the Feb. 14, 2002, shooting death of Alison Logan Gebauer, 47.

Costanzo ruled that sufficient evidence linking Gebauer to the shooting was presented during a hearing yesterday.

Last month, Judge Katherine B. Emery cleared the way for yesterday's hearing after she ruled Gebauer should be tried as an adult. In her ruling, Emery said Gebauer repeatedly has rebuffed previous attempts at rehabilitation "to disguise his deep-seated anti-social behavior."

For more than a year, Gebauer's attorney, Thomas Cooke, of the Public Defender's Office, and District Attorney John Pettit's office have been arguing whether Gebauer, who was 15 years old at the time of the shooting, should be tried as an adult or a juvenile. If he had been tried as a juvenile, Gebauer could have been detained under court supervision only until he turned 21.

Gebauer could receive a life sentence if convicted of first-degree murder as an adult.

During yesterday's hearing, Charleroi police Lt. Michael Matyes testified Gebauer admitted shooting his mother and then raping her. Matyes said Gebauer made the admission after he was taken to the police station for driving erratically in downtown Charleroi shortly after midnight on Feb. 14, 2002.

"I was just sitting there with him and he (Gebauer) asked me what would happen if a minor commits murder. I asked him why would he be saying that," Matyes said.

Matyes said Gebauer calmly replied, "Because I murdered my mother. ... I murdered my mother and then raped her."

Matyes said Gebauer's confession came after he and Charleroi Patrolman Mark Yates were on routine patrol and noticed Gebauer driving a pickup truck, "crossing the center line and going over onto the berm."

When Yates and Matyes discovered that Gebauer was not old enough to drive and could not locate a vehicle registration card, police parked the truck and took Gebauer to the police station for questioning, Matyes said. He said police wanted to contact his parents, who live in neighboring Fallowfield Township.

"Mr. Gebauer said that his father (Edward) was out of town, and his mother was working until 2 a.m. at Blue Cross in Pittsburgh," Matyes said.

According to Matyes, police became more alarmed after they discovered Gebauer had four knives along with five credit cards in his parents' names, plus "a wad of cash" amounting to $700. He said Yates also observed the handle of a handgun protruding from Gebauer's open knapsack inside the truck when Yates parked the truck.

Matyes said police eventually discovered a second handgun in the knapsack, along with parts of a .22-caliber rifle that Gebauer was transporting in a violin case, also in the truck.

"(Gebauer) said he was carrying the guns because he had taken them to a friend's house to clean because he did not know how to clean them," Matyes said.

After the officers took the teen back to the police station, Matyes said, repeated attempts to reach Alison Gebauer were unsuccessful. He said a Fallowfield police officer drove to the Gebauer house, and no one answered the door.

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas, Matyes said he and Fallowfield police Capt. William Ritenour returned to the Gebauer farm and discovered Alison Gebauer's body inside a pole barn, where the teen said he shot her.

State police Trooper Samuel Ferguson, of the Belle Vernon barracks, testified that an autopsy determined Alison Gebauer died from a gunshot wound behind her right ear. Ferguson said DNA tests on her body that day indicate that John Gebauer sexually assaulted her.

"When I entered the barn ... she was in a kneeling position with her head on the ground and had a gunshot wound behind her right ear," Ferguson said.

Ferguson testified that her blue jeans had been cut off her body and her underwear removed. He said coveralls that Alison Gebauer also was wearing were pulled up around her waist.

Although Ritenour did not testify at yesterday's hearing, he has said in previous court proceedings that John Gebauer told him that he sneaked up behind Alison Gebauer as she was feeding animals in the barn and shot her. Although authorities said John Gebauer has not given a reason for the shooting, he did tell them he was planning to run away when he was pulled over.

"We have evidence in this case that is not just slight, but very strong," Lucas told Costanzo.

Cooke unsuccessfully argued that Costanzo should dismiss the charges for lack of evidence.

After the hearing, Cooke declined to disclose his defense strategy for the upcoming trial. He refused to say whether John Gebauer's mental competence will be an issue at trial.

However, Cooke said he believes that in the near future Pettit's office will petition for John Gebauer's return to the general prison population in the county jail where he has been held in isolation since the shooting. Cooke indicated he will oppose the move.

"I believe he's been doing well where he's been at up until this point. ... He's been receiving schooling, receiving medical attention. I don't believe a juvenile belongs among an adult population (in jail)," Cooke said.

Alison and Edward Gebauer adopted John Gebauer in 1999. Gebauer's natural mother, Karen, died in Lawrence County in 1993 when he was 7 years old, and previous testimony indicated he had lived in several foster homes before being adopted by the Gebauers.

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