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Briefs: Man guilty of aggravated assault in slaying

| Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2006

A man charged in connection with the death of a Spring Hill woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated assault.

In exchange for his plea, a homicide charge against Michael Benintend, 40, was dropped by prosecutors. Benintend must testify against a co-defendant, Michael Molina, who is charged with homicide.

Melissa Snodgrass, 22, disappeared Sept. 7, 2003, after she left the Peralta Street, North Side, home of her mother, Charmaine Cefalo, with the family dog, Baby. She said she was going to a neighborhood store.

Her remains and those of the dog were found by workmen March 9, 2004, in the basement of a vacant North Side house.

Benintend also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and unlawful restraint. He could receive 5 1/2 to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 12.

Pittsburgh Ravenstahl to visit D.C., meet with lawmakers

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl planned to travel to Washington, D.C., today to meet with legislators from Pennsylvania.

Mayoral spokesman Dick Skrinjar said Ravenstahl plans to meet with Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn Hills; Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissvale; Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair; Rep. Melissa Hart, R-Bradford Woods; and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair County.

Ravenstahl is scheduled to return Thursday afternoon in time to release the city's proposed 2007 budget on time to Pittsburgh's two state financial overseers.

Skrinjar said the mayor will update the legislators on Pittsburgh's financial woes, a move that could mark the beginning of Ravenstahl's campaign to persuade lawmakers to give more state and federal aid to Pittsburgh.

East Liberty 1st county man cleared of rape by DNA charged

The first person in Allegheny County to be freed from prison after his rape conviction was overturned by DNA tests is facing charges after being accused of luring a teenage girl into a car, police said.

Thomas Doswell, 47, of the 2100 block of Swissvale Avenue in East Hills, was in the Allegheny County Jail on Tuesday in lieu of $50,000 bond on charges of luring a child into a vehicle, unlawful restraint and reckless endangerment.

Doswell is accused of persuading a 17-year-old girl who was walking to a bus stop along Penn Avenue in East Liberty to get into his car on Aug. 14 and of trying to fondle her, police said.

Doswell was released from prison after 18 years in August 2005 after DNA tests cleared him of a 1986 rape conviction. Doswell also had been charged in 1984 with rape but was acquitted at trial, according to court records.

Man shot, hospitalized; police seek gunman

A 23-year-old man was hospitalized in good condition Tuesday after being shot in the buttocks in East Liberty during what police describe as a domestic dispute with a relative of his girlfriend.

The East Liberty man, who was not identified, was shot shortly before 3 p.m. after an argument with another man in the 600 block of North St. Clair Street, city homicide detectives said. The man was alert and conscious when he arrived at UPMC Presbyterian hospital in Oakland, police said.

The gunman remained at large last night.

Downtown State police nab 1 of 2 halfway-house escapees

A Brookline man who kicked his way out of a halfway house near the Allegheny County Jail was captured early Tuesday in Venango County, state police said.

Daniel Christian Skowron, 29, was captured about 4:30 a.m. yesterday. He and Michael Paul Early, 29, of Arnold, Westmoreland County, fled the Renewal Center's facility on Second Avenue, Downtown, last week. Skowron was serving time for robbery, and Early was incarcerated for theft, state police said.

Early, who remained at large last night, was seen last in the Franklin area in Venango County driving Skowron's gray Pontiac Grand Prix; the vehicle's license-plate number is GKV-0693. Anyone with information should call state police at 412-787-2000.

East Edgewood Jury finds ex-officer not guilty of rape

A former Edgewood police officer was acquitted Tuesday of raping a young girl.

Fredrick Livingston, 39, of Monroeville, was accused of assaulting the girl on multiple occasions over several years until she was 14. The girl came forward when she was 17, according to court documents.

Livingston was acquitted by a jury before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel of rape, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and another charge.

Monroeville Coon expected to take stand, claim she is innocent

The former Baldwin-Whitehall school board member accused of drugging and attempting to kill her ex-lover by setting his Monroeville apartment on fire is scheduled to take the witness stand in her own defense today.

Beverly Coon, 47, of Whitehall, is accused of putting sleeping pills in ladylocks and giving them to Ronald Grimm, 61, former superintendent of the Bethel Park School District. Prosecutors said Coon is accused of then setting his bedroom on fire the night of Sept. 8, 2005.

Defense attorneys said Coon will proclaim her innocence today.

An expert witness for the defense, Carl Natale, testified Tuesday that he believes the fire was started by a faulty Apple computer. He cited a recall by the manufacturer because of faulty batteries that could be a fire hazard.

North Kilbuck Landslide near Wal-Mart site shuts road again

A landslide in the vicinity of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter construction project forced police in Kilbuck to shut down Route 65 in both directions Tuesday night, county emergency officials said.

It was the same stretch of roadway that was closed for two days in late April after crews working to clear land for the $28 million store used too many explosives and caused a hillside collapse that shut down a half-mile stretch of the key artery for two days. It was not known last night what caused the latest problem.

Township police were called shortly after 8 p.m. for traffic control. Detours around the site were posted later in the evening. It was not known if the roadway would reopen for this morning's rush hour.

Region Harrison Missing 12-year-old found in Pittsburgh home

A 12-year-old Harrison girl missing since Thursday was found in a home in Pittsburgh's Overbrook neighborhood Tuesday.

Crystal Penn, of Wood Street in the township's Natrona section, walked away after a dispute with her mother.

The FBI found Penn about 1 p.m. yesterday by first locating one of two men who had been seen with her since Thursday.

The girl appears to have gone with them voluntarily, and neither man was charged, police said. The investigation, however, is continuing.

Agents traced one man to a bank in West Mifflin, where he had opened an account. He gave agents the location of Crystal and the other man, FBI spokesman Bill Crowley said.

Fifteen minutes later, Crystal was found in the Overbrook home.

Mercer County Ohio attorney named to represent Moonda

A federal judge Tuesday appointed an Ohio lawyer to defend Donna J. Moonda, 47, of Hermitage, Mercer County, who is accused of hiring her lover to shoot and kill her millionaire husband.

U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. issued an order to appoint Roger Synenberg of Cleveland to represent Moonda, who is charged with murder for hire in connection with the May 13, 2005, fatal shooting of her husband, Dr. Gulam Moonda, 69, along the Ohio Turnpike. She could face the death penalty if convicted.

Synenberg, who was hired by Donna Moonda, told Dowd that she doesn't have enough money to mount a defense in a death-penalty case. The court will appoint a second attorney to represent her in the sentencing phase. Donna Moonda has no access to her husband's estate because she is accused of plotting his death.

Cambria County Ban on wild, exotic, farm animals includes bees

The borough council in Carrolltown has passed an ordinance banning wild, exotic or farm animals -- including bees.

Borough Manager Ron Johnson said the ordinance was prompted by a complaint about some animals being brought into the borough; the effect they might have on public health and safety; and whether they might be a nuisance.

Johnson said there have been no complaints about bees, but that those raised on farms are banned under the ordinance, as are livestock -- including horses, donkeys, mules, ponies, cattle, sheep, pigs, hogs, llamas and alpacas.

Borough officials can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Those who break the ordinance can be fined between $10 and $1,000 or sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Dog survives bear attack; group helps toward bills

A Johnstown man let his family's dog outside to play, where it was attacked by a black bear.

Jay Thompson said the 2-year-old pit bull, Aleah, had a shattered left femur and a dislocated hip from the recent attack. The dog is being treated at Ebensburg Animal Hospital.

Thompson said he knew something was wrong when he let the dog out. Barking and growling, she ran across the street. He said he had seen the bear in his neighborhood before and is grateful that no children were outside at the time.

Tina Taylor, with Habitat for Hounds, said the group has pledged $100 toward Aleah's medical bills, which could cost as much as $1,000.

"The family contacted us for help, and we are willing to do what we can," Taylor said.

Erie County Businessman envisions railroad-station museum

A businessman who owns a freight-management company wants to create a railroad museum at Erie's 79-year-old Union Station.

Jim Berlin, owner of Logistics Plus Inc., bought the train station for $1.5 million in 2003. Now, he said, he hopes to create a museum along the station's track side.

"You bring people to a world-class rail museum in a historic district where a train comes by every 20 minutes, in the city where GE (General Electric Co.) makes its locomotives," Berlin said. "Any railroad fan would have to visit Erie at least once in their life."

Berlin said creating the museum could spur the development of restaurants and shops near the station. For months, he has been appealing to lawmakers and others to support the project and contribute memorabilia.

Jake Rouch, chief executive of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, said he believes Berlin can make his idea a reality.

School board suspends teacher without pay

Wattsburg Area School Board has suspended without pay a French teacher who is accused of touching several male teenagers inappropriately.

Matthew B. Weaver, 32, was charged in June with criminal solicitation/involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault and corruption of minors after a male teen accused Weaver of touching him improperly at Erie Playhouse. Weaver has been suspended with pay since Aug. 21.

Two other male teens also have accused Weaver of touching them inappropriately at the theater, police said.

Weaver is free on bond. His attorney, Richard Vendetti, said his client is not guilty.

The school board made the decision to suspend him without pay at a meeting Monday night. The board passed the measure without discussion.

Officials clarify that deadbeats can face jail

Erie County domestic relations officials said they're fielding calls from parents confused about whether they face jail if they fail to pay child support because of a county judge who released 34 such people from jail last month.

County officials want parents to know that Judge Stephanie Domitrovich's rulings, based on a recent Superior Court case, don't amount to a "get out of jail free" card.

When people are jailed for nonsupport, a judge must set a monetary amount -- known as a purge -- that the person can pay to get out of jail. But under the appeals court ruling, judges must consider defendants' ability to pay the purge amount before jailing them.

Domitrovich has not commented on her decision to release the support inmates last month, but her rulings indicate she did so based on the appeals court ruling.

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