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Trial opens for Jeannette man accused in frying pan beating

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 10:59 a.m.

The lawyer for a Jeannette man on trial for allegedly trying to kill his girlfriend by hitting her in the head with a steel frying pan suggested on Tuesday that another man may have been responsible.

The attempted murder trial of Timothy Lenhart, 55, started yesterday with prosecutors contending he entered a man's apartment and brutally beat Jennifer Hix with the frying pan on July 10, 2010.

Defense attorney Brian Aston vigorously questioned the prosecution's eyewitness and at one point suggested that man, Robert Michael Sayers, raped Hix during a three-hour period for which he could not account.

Aston accused Sayers of telling Jeannette police that he found Hix alone and drunk in the street and that he carried her into his apartment on Division Street, where her shirt and bra were removed and her pants were pulled down around her ankles.

Sayers, formerly of Jeannette, later claimed he took Hix to his apartment around 3 p.m. and that he witnessed the frying pan attack an hour later. A 911 call that reported her beating was made shortly after 7 p.m.

In court yesterday, Sayers denied accusations that he had sexual contact with Hix, whom he described as a friend.

"I doubt I could be raping her with Timothy there," Sayers testified.

"What about those missing three hours?" Aston asked.

"That was a mis-estimation of the time," Sayers responded.

Earlier, Sayers testified he escorted Hix home after Lenhart attacked her earlier in the day. She stumbled and couldn't make it to her apartment, so they diverted to his nearby home, he told jurors. Sayers said he left Hix to buy her a soft drink, and when he returned, Lenhart was standing over her with a frying pan near her head.

"I saw his hand swing a frying pan, then heard a thud and Jennifer scream," Sayers testified. "I never saw him make contact with the frying pan, but I heard Jennifer scream, and I saw the pan break off from the handle."

In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Jackie Knupp told jurors they would not rely on witnesses to give accurate times of events because they were drunk and that the attack occurred more than a year ago. Knupp said official police reports would reveal the actual times that events occurred.

According to police reports presented to the jury yesterday, Lenhart was arrested for public drunkenness shortly after 1 p.m. He was released three hours later, Jeannette police Officer John Ryan testified.

Earlier that day, police had responded to a domestic complaint in which witnesses said Lenhart punched Hix in the eye after he flew into a jealous rage while drinking beer with her and two friends.

"There seemed to be some friction going on. He accused Jennifer of having a sexual relationship with me. He hit her. He reached over and punched her in the face, around the right eye," Thomas McCune testified.

In 2009, Lenhart was acquitted of aggravated assault by a Westmoreland County jury. Police contended Lenhart attacked Hix and poked out her left eye with an umbrella tip.

Lenhart denied the allegation and said Hix was drunk and that during a physical struggle the umbrella accidentally went into her eye.

In the frying pan incident, the defense contends Hix was drunk.

In her opening argument, Knupp confirmed that Hix was drunk and that her blood-alcohol level when she was treated for her injuries was 0.51 percent, or nearly six times the level at which a motorist in Pennsylvania is considered to be intoxicated.

The trial will continue today before Westmoreland County Judge Al Bell.

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