Judge: Prosecutors may pursue death penalty against Miranda Barbour
SUNBURY - Prosecutors can continue their pursuit of the death penalty against a woman accused in the Nov. 11 murder of a Port Trevorton man.
Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor on Monday dismissed Miranda Barbour's attempts to have the death penalty removed on the grounds that the state lacked evidence of robbery, conspiracy and torture.
Barbour is suspected of stabbing Troy LaFerrara 20 times while her husband, Elytte Barbour, choked him with a black cord from behind the passenger seat in their car. The couple then removed $150 from LaFerrara's wallet and dumped his body in a backyard in Sunbury.
District Attorney Tony Rosini in January filed a "notice of aggravating circumstances" that would permit jury members to impose the death penalty if they unanimously find that aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating circumstances. He said aggravating circumstances include torture and the fact that a felony offense of robbery was allegedly committed during the killing. His contention was challenged by Miranda Barbour's attorney, Edward C. Greco, the county's chief public defender.
According to the ruling, Miranda Barbour's attempt to have the robbery charge dismissed because it was uncertain if LaFerrara was conscious when the robbery took place was "misplaced," because the act of violence resulting in the lack of consciousness was directly tied to the desire to take LaFerrara's money.
Additionally, Saylor ruled the conspiracy charge may stand because sufficient evidence exists of a joint plan between the defendant and her husband, including the fact that her husband was awaiting a signal in the backseat of the car before springing into action. Saylor also cited the taking of LaFerrara's wallet and a trip to purchase products to clean the car as evidence of mutual, concerted action of both parties.
Saylor also ruled against Miranda Barbour's assertion that evidence showing aggravating circumstances, which in this case is torture, did not exist. Saylor said that in Pennsylvania, the burden is on the defendant to show the lack of evidence prior to trial. She did not fulfill that burden because the record is not devoid of any evidence of torture. Saylor cited LaFerrara's death through two modes, strangulation and stabbing, as well as the number of times he was stabbed in a non-vital area and the length of time he was "gasping and choking" while the couple allegedly drove him to the dumping point, as evidence of torture.