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Firebomb suspect's family testifies

| Tuesday, May 14, 2002

A Fayette County man was with friends and family throughout most of the hours leading up to the firebombing that killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her daughter, witnesses testified Monday in federal court in Pittsburgh.

Attorneys for Joseph Minerd, 46, of Bullskin Township, did not offer any testimony, though, to account for Minerd's whereabouts between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m. New Year's Day 1999. The bombing occurred between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Minerd is charged in the firebombing that killed Deana Mitts, 24, and her daughter, Kayla, 3, both of Connellsville, Fayette County. Mitts was 8 months pregnant, and tests showed Minerd fathered the child.

Prosecutors contend Minerd killed Mitts and her daughter because he did not want to be a father. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Minerd is charged under a federal statute that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty in arsons that involve interstate commerce — in this case, a townhouse — and result in loss of life.

James Minerd Jr. said he and his uncle, Joseph Minerd, spent the afternoon New Year's Eve 1998 buying parts and repairing a kerosene heater. James Minerd said Joseph left his sight for only an hour around 6 p.m. to go home and change clothes for a New Year's party. Minerd returned to his nephew's Connellsville trailer around 7 p.m. and left around 2 a.m., James Minerd said.

Joseph Minerd was last seen driving alone toward his house on Longanecker Road, witnesses testified.

James Minerd, 30, said Joseph acted normal and seemed to enjoy himself during what he described as more of a "family get-together" than a party, attended by about 15 family members and friends.

Joseph's brothers, Earl Minerd and James Minerd Sr., both of Mt. Pleasant, Westmoreland County, said they went to their brother's home around 9 a.m. New Year's Day and found him sweeping the floors. Joseph then spent the day at Earl's Country Club Road home with his brothers and left around 6 p.m., they said.

He returned about an hour later and told his family about the fire, Mark Minerd, another brother of Joseph Minerd, testified.

"He looked like he had been crying for some time," Mark Minerd said. "He looked pretty upset about it."

The defense also called a neighbor of Mitts, Ann Clem, 78, who lived in the Rose Square apartment complex where Mitts lived. She testified that an unidentified man looked in her front door about 9 p.m. New Year's Eve and then walked away toward Mitts' apartment.

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