Tough start to homicide probe ends with success for prosecution
SUNBURY - For as long as city Cpl. Jamie Quinn can remember, every murder investigation she's been involved with has included a suspect from the start.
Every investigation, that is, with the exception of the murder of Troy LaFerrara.
LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton, was found Nov. 12 dumped near a garage to the rear of 240 Catawissa Ave. He had been strangled and stabbed the day before. His wallet was missing and his vehicle was found five miles away in the parking lot of the Susquehanna Valley Mall.
The crime was brutal, there were few clues left behind and, aside from passing through Sunbury, Quinn said, the principals involved had no connection to the city.
"This was the only 'who done it?'" Quinn, a 20-year veteran of the Sunbury Police Department, said Tuesday outside the Northumberland County Courthouse. Minutes earlier, Miranda and Elytte Barbour, newlyweds at the time of the killing, had pleaded guilty to murdering LaFerrara in a deal with the prosecution that spared them from facing the death penalty at trial.
There are 184 inmates on death row in Pennsylvania, three of whom are female. The last execution took place in 1999, according to the state Department of Corrections website.
"Putting all the little details together, it's why we became investigators," Quinn said.
Three weeks passed between the day LaFerrara's body was found and the Dec. 3 confession and arrest of Miranda Barbour. In between Sunbury police pieced together clues toward building their case.
Quinn thought they had Miranda Barbour on Thanksgiving Eve. Officers worked with state police to track calls that had been placed to and from LaFerrara's cell phone. Quinn said they got a hit for an "Amanda Barbour" in Selinsgrove.
She wanted to ditch the holiday, instead hoping to knock on doors in search of the killer. Speaking of Patrolman Travis Bremigen, "He said, 'If we can't get a chance to eat turkey, why should she?'"
They held off, though, bringing Miranda Barbour in for questioning on Dec. 2. She denied any wrongdoing. In the early morning of Dec. 3, she returned to the Selinsgrove station of the state police and confessed, never implicating her husband. Three days later, he did that himself through a confession of his own.
Case goes worldwide
Bremigen said he had little doubt in the Barbours' confessions, adding that Elytte Barbour's words bolstered the police investigation.
What followed was another confession no one expected. Miranda Barbour spoke with Francis Scarcella of The Daily Item twice, confessing to the murder of LaFerrara and making claims of being a serial killer herself. She said she was led into murder by the leader of a satanic cult when she was just 13 years old. Before her arrest eight months ago, she claimed to have killed so many people that she stopped counting at 22 victims.
Worldwide attention followed, with major television networks, national and international newspapers and prominent websites all seeking information on Miranda Barbour. "The Dr. Phil Show" dedicated an episode to the case, and TMZ even questioned Jonathan Davis, the lead singer of the band Korn, about Barbour's satanic beliefs.
"It was an international case, which is not what we expected to happen," Bremigen said Tuesday.
Defense attorneys for Miranda Barbour tried in vain to have a search warrant tossed, thereby tossing the murder weapon with it, along with her confession. But Bremigen said he never doubted the case against the couple, or his fellow officers' work in putting it together.
Northumberland County District Attorney Ann Targonski agreed with the patrolman. Moments after the Barbours' hearings ended Tuesday, she credited Bremigen, Quinn, Sgt. Christopher Blase and all law enforcement involved.
Police sought the knife inside 101 N. Water St., Selinsgrove, the Barbours' home, on Dec. 9. That address was listed on the warrant, but so was 101 N. Market St. Defense attorneys hoped to capitalize on the typo, but the judge sided with the prosecution in upholding admissibility of the knife as evidence.
"The law does not hold us to absurd results when it was clear officers searched the correct home," Targonski said.
Psychiatric evaluations concluded both Miranda and Elytte Barbour were competent to stand trial. About two weeks ago, conversations between the prosecution and defense began regarding a plea deal.
The Barbours would plead guilty to second-degree murder, aggravated assault, robbery and possessing an instrument of a crime. They also agreed to serve life sentences without parole, avoiding the possibility of the death penalty.
Targonski said the family of LaFerrara was satisfied with the plea deal, adding she is happy they'll be spared the experience of going through a murder trial.
Tuesday's proceedings were covered only by local media outlets. The hearings weren't on the court schedule until Monday. It remains to be seen if the attention that followed Miranda Barbour's satanic serial killing claims will result in an increased media presence when the couple are sentenced together on Sept. 18.
A telephone message left for a relative of LaFerrara was not returned.