Homicide charges against couple advance
SUNBURY - The young couple charged in the stabbing and strangulation death of Troy LaFerrara plan to stand trial after homicide, robbery and other felonies were bound to court during separate preliminary hearings Friday at Northumberland County Courthouse.
The hearing for Miranda Barbour, who turned 19 last Saturday, lasted more than three hours, while the one for her husband, Elytte who turned 22 on the day of the alleged homicide, took just 30 minutes. But the end result was the same as Magisterial District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum ruled enough evidence was presented by the commonwealth to send the cases to the Court of Common Pleas.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty at the outset of their hearings.
Details revealed Friday that hadn't been presented in police affidavits included testimony from state police Trooper Brent Bobb who said Miranda Barbour, while free to leave the Selinsgrove barracks after a police interview, declined to do so because she knew police "would eventually come for her and she just wanted to get it over with."
Also, Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley said the victim suffered 20 stab wounds to the chest, face, stomach and rib area. To earlier police statements that Elytte Barbour used a "cable cord" to strangle LaFerrara while his wife stabbed him approximately 20 times, Kelley testified that a black TV cable was found under the victim's head.
Miranda Barbour, a petite woman with long brown hair, and her husband, also slender and perhaps even shorter than his wife, are accused of killing the 6-2, 278-pound LaFerrara Nov. 11 in her vehicle in Sunbury and dumping his body near an alley in the backyard of a Catawissa Avenue home. The Barbours are also charged with stealing LaFerrara's wallet containing $250.
The couple, who had moved to Selinsgrove from North Carolina a few weeks before the homicide, allegedly planned to kill LaFerrara after he arranged through Craigslist to pay Miranda Barbour for companionship, according to a confession Elytte Barbour gave to police. He said they wanted to "kill someone together" and, after other attempts, their plan with LaFerrara worked.
The victim, from Port Trevorton, was a married engineer who once served as a supervisor in Chapman Township.
The Barbours, who were handcuffed, shackled and wearing restraint belts Friday, are now scheduled for formal arraignment on the charges in county court Jan. 21 before the cases proceed to pre-trial conferences Feb. 7.
Miranda Barbour, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, appeared to be writing notes during her hearing, which began at 9:30 a.m. and featured testimony by five witnesses. About 45 minutes involved watching various angles of surveillance video from the Selinsgrove Walmart, where authorities claim the Barbours went to purchase supplies to clean blood from their car after the killing.
Authorities said the video depicted Elytte Barbour entering the store carrying a red towel. The significance of the towel, which he had the entire time in the store, was never discussed. Miranda Barbour is shown inside and outside her vehicle in the parking lot, but never enters the store.
Kelley said the victim was discovered face down in the backyard of 240 Catawissa Ave., Sunbury, at about 11:30 a.m. Nov. 12.
Other testimony was provided by Sunbury Cpl. Jamie Quinn and Patrolman Travis Bremigen, two of the three arresting officers, and Daniel Marks, an employee of the loss prevention department at Walmart.
Kelley and Bremigen were the only witnesses at Elyett Barbour's 2 p.m. hearing.
Cell phone trace
Kelley reported chief deputy coroner James Gotlob pronounced LaFerrara dead at 11:49 a.m. Nov. 12. He said an autopsy conducted the next day at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown revealed the 20 stab wounds.
Kelley said a mark across the front of the victim's neck was as wide as the piece of cable found at the scene.
Quinn testified that LaFerrara did not have a wallet or any other identification on him when his body was located. She said a cell phone was found in his pocket, but needed to be charged.
By tracing cell phone records, Quinn said police were able to determine the last call made to his phone came from a number that listed Elytte Barbour of North Carolina as the subscriber. When she initially dialed the number, Quinn said she got a voice mail from a female. When she called the number back, Quinn said a female told her she had the wrong number.
Bremigen talked about how police eventually linked Miranda Barbour to the homicide by tracing cell phone calls and text messages she reportedly made to the victim the day of the crime. He said Miranda Barbour, who voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by police Dec. 2, was the primary user of the cell phone even though her husband was listed as the subscriber.
Bremigen said Elyett Barbour came to Sunbury Police Department on Dec. 6 to confess to his role in the murder.
He told police he and his wife went to the Susquehanna Valley Mall near Selinsgrove to pick up LaFerrara and that he hid under a blanket in the back seat of their Honda CR-V. After driving to Sunbury, Elytte Barbour said his wife tapped him on the leg, a pre-arranged sign that he was to strangle LaFerrara. While he held the victim tight to the front passenger seat, his wife repeatedly stabbed him, Elytte Barbour said, according to the officer's testimony.
Elytte Barbour said he saw his wife take LaFerrara's wallet before they drove off, Bremigen said.
Bobb testified Miranda Barbour came to his station at 3:30 a.m. Dec. 3 to confess to the murder. He said Barbour told him she couldn't afford an attorney, but would like to have one appointed by the court.
She was informed by Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch that she was not eligible for an appointed attorney because she wasn't yet charged with anything. The trooper said Barbour called her husband at one point to discuss the attorney situation.
Bobb said the defendant at one point was told she could leave the station, but she declined.
Bobb said Miranda Barbour admitted contacting LaFerrara through Craigslist and meeting him Nov. 11 in the parking lot at the mall. The trooper said Barbour told him she stabbed LaFerrara, but only after he grabbed her by the throat and groped her. Bobb said she admitted to stealing the victim's wallet.
All charges hold
Miranda Barbour was represented by Northumberland County Chief Public Defender Edward Greco. He was assisted by attorney Paige Rosini from the same office.
Her husband's lead attorney is independent conflicts counsel James Best. He was assisted by county conflicts counsel John Broda and special conflicts counsel Susan Schwartz.
In his closing argument, Greco tried to have charges of criminal conspiracy to commit homicide, criminal conspiracy to commit robbery and robbery dismissed against Miranda Barbour, arguing a limited amount of evidence was presented on those offenses. He also said some testimony was hearsay and that any communication between his client and her husband shouldn't be admissible since it is protected under spousal privileges.
Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini, who prosecuted both cases, disagreed and said clear evidence was presented to warrant all the charges.
After his client's hearing, Greco said, "We plan to proceed to trial."
He reserved comment when asked about the general condition of his client and whether she has shown any remorse.
Tony Rosini said he was pleased with Apfelbaum's ruling, but couldn't comment on evidence.
Best said there is a possibility of only one trial for both defendants.
Tight security under the supervision of Northumberland County Sheriff Chad Reiner was provided by approximately 20 deputy sheriffs from Northumberland and Union counties and Sunbury police officers, who surrounded the perimeter of the inside of Courtroom 1. About a dozen representatives of print, television and radio media were assigned seating behind the defense table. Also, Sunbury police blocked off Market Street in front of the courthouse during Miranda Barbour's hearing.
No incidents were reported.
Family declines comment
Several members of LaFerrara's family, including his wife, Colleen, were in attendance. They declined comment afterward.
Miranda Barbour was escorted from Northumberland County Prison to the courthouse at about 7:45 a.m. She was recommitted to the county jail at about 1 p.m. About 10 minutes later, her husband arrived under heavy guard for his hearing before being returned to Columbia County Prison in Bloomsburg.
The hearings were moved to the courthouse for security reasons.
(Staff Writer Justin Strawser contributed to this report.)