Judge mulls whether to toss 'Craigslist Killer's' confession
SUNBURY - Miranda Barbour confessed to murder without an attorney present, and a Northumberland County judge will decide if that confession was illegally obtained.
Video evidence from Dec. 3 shows Barbour explaining in detail how she lured and stabbed to death Troy LaFerrara before dumping his body in a Sunbury alley. The recording was made after 5 a.m., just hours after she initially denied even knowing LaFerrara during a police interview the night before.
Barbour, 19, and her husband, Elytte, 22, are charged with the Nov. 11 stabbing death of LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton. They have become known as the "Craigslist killers" because the victim answered an ad on the Internet site from Miranda Barbour offering companionship for money prior to being killed.
Throughout the police interviews, Barbour did not implicate her husband in the crime. He had subsequently confessed his role, saying he hid in the back of his wife's Honda CRV and strangled LaFerrara from behind with a cord while Barbour stabbed him repeatedly.
Barbour asked for an attorney several times during both interviews and was read her Miranda rights in the initial interview. However, she wasn't placed under arrest, not until long after those rights were read, after police officers explained several times they wouldn't meet her request for a lawyer and after she had already come and gone from one police interview.
Prosecution witnesses maintained during a suppression hearing Tuesday before Judge Charles H. Saylor at Northumberland County Courthouse that it was the right call.
The hearing lasted six hours with several breaks before adjournment. Saylor said he would rule on whether or not to toss the confession sometime after a suppression hearing set for June 3, this one on the validity of a search warrant.
'I can't without a lawyer'
Although the murder was committed in Sunbury, Barbour, who lived in Selinsgrove, made the confession at the Selinsgrove station of the Pennsylvania State Police. Trooper Brent Bobb and Michael Piecuch, Snyder County's district attorney, were present for the admission. They testified Tuesday that since she wasn't charged with a crime, wasn't held in police custody or hadn't yet confessed to murder, they had no recourse to appoint an attorney for Barbour.
It was Barbour's third visit to the station in eight hours. The first was an initial interview that started at 8:35 p.m. Dec. 2, when she denied any involvement. She returned on her own to the station lobby after police officers had brought in her husband, Elytte, for questioning. She left and returned at 4:15 a.m. Dec. 3 and was initially cautious with her words.
"I want to tell you guys so badly what happened, but I can't without a lawyer," Barbour said Dec. 3 in the video footage from inside the station's interview room.
She wanted something else: to avoid the spectacle of police officers coming to her home unannounced to make an arrest.
Several times Barbour asked for an attorney and police officers each time said she was on her own to secure legal counsel since she wasn't charged with a crime. She couldn't afford legal counsel, she said, but she wanted it to keep from being rail-roaded. Piecuch described it as a "circular impasse."
"Until she started telling us of her involvement in the killing, I didn't know what she would say," Piecuch testified during cross-examination by Chief Public Defender Ed Greco.
Piecuch said he reviewed the 5th and 6th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution regarding right to legal counsel before going to the Stonington station to speak with Barbour.
Free to go
"You got something on your mind," Bobb said to Barbour in a clip from the Dec. 3 video played Tuesday in court.
"Yeah," Barbour replied.
"You want an attorney present. You can't talk right now," he said.
"Yes," she replied.
It was after 4 a.m. and Bobb said finding an attorney would be complicated at that hour. She had no preference, she said, she just wanted representation. If she had one on her side, he'd be "forced" to help her.
Bobb told Barbour he had two assumptions: that she was involved and that LaFerrara's murder was in self-defense.
"Otherwise you wouldn't be here," Bobb told her in the video.
The video shows Barbour had called her husband from a station telephone inside the interview room. She spoke about her desire for an attorney and was indirect when attempting to reference why, exactly, she needed it.
After returning from the rest room which was just steps from the front exit - steps she could have freely taken on her own, Northumberland County District Attorney Anthony Rosini attempted to point out during witness examination - the confession was made. She had not yet secured legal counsel.
Up until that point, "she was free to go at any time," Piecuch testified, and video footage shows her saying she understood her rights. Bobb said once that confession was made, "in my mind" she was no longer free to leave.
Under cross-examination, Bobb confirmed to Greco he never expressly told Barbour that she was free to go.
Greco asked that a near six minute interval in which Barbour was left alone in the interview room was evidence that his client may have been overly tired prior to making the confession.
Greco attempted to show conflictions in the language of the Miranda warning - "You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will provided to you." - and what officers were telling his client during the police interviews - that she wasn't charged with a crime and therefore couldn't be appointed a public defender.
Bobb said the recitation of the Miranda warning - read by Sunbury police officer Travis Bremigen, who also testified Tuesday, and a waiver for which was signed by Barbour herself - was more a courtesy, or educational, he said.
Language used by Bobb in explaining to Barbour who Piecuch was and what his role was as district attorney was also questioned by Greco.
Police officers had interviewed Greco's client twice, her husband once. They interviewed three roommates, too, and seized Barbour's cell phone and her vehicle. Though police maintain there wasn't enough evidence to arrest Barbour up until she confessed, Greco sought to show officers were working to link his client to the murder.
"All that together doesn't give sufficient evidence for custodial interrogation?" Greco asked Trooper Brent Bobb, who was present for Barbour's disputed confession, in seeking to point out that his client had a right to appointed counsel.
Rosini had his objection to the question sustained. He told the court that if Greco wanted to use the evidence in such a way, he should be specific in detail and context.
Bobb and Barbour were cordial during the second interview. The first interview ended with a much different tone.
Toward the end of the 90-minute interview Dec. 2, Barbour was irritated and upset. She was standing in the interview room and arguing that police officers had no right to seize her phone.
Bobb told her they did. They were seizing it, not searching it, at least not until a search warrant was secured. She protested and raised her voice before walking out of the room and off camera. Bobb and Bremigen followed her into the hallway. There is no camera footage of the exchange but their voices were audible.
"Don't touch me. I demand a lawyer. Stop. I didn't do anything," Barbour shouted when Bobb grabbed her arm and took the cell phone from her hand.
She left under her own will and would return later to confess to the crime, a confession her attorney is seeking to have dismissed.