WASHINGTON, Pa. - The third day of proceedings Wednesday in the criminal trial of Terrell Yarbrough revolved around the collection and testing of forensic evidence gathered in the May 31, 1999, killing of two Franciscan University of Steubenville students.
Yarbrough, 28, of Pittsburgh, is charged in Washington County, Pa., with two counts of criminal homicide and two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal homicide in the deaths of Aaron Land, 20, of Philadelphia, and Brian Muha, 18, of Westerville, Ohio.
Yarbrough and Nathan "Boo" Herring, 28, of Steubenville, are accused of kidnapping Land and Muha from the apartment they shared with fellow university student Andrew Doran at 165 McDowell Ave. in Steubenville at approximately 5 a.m. May 31, 1999. Yarbrough and Herring then allegedly stole Muha's black 1996 Chevrolet Blazer, transporting Land and Muha to a hillside off of U.S. Route 22 near the Bavington exit and shooting each man once in the head.
Pennsylvania State Trooper Robert Rhinehart testified that he processed a green BMW that was found abandoned on Spring Avenue in Steubenville at approximately 8 p.m. May 31, 1999. Steubenville City Police had impounded the vehicle after confirming that it was a vehicle stolen from Barbara Vey of Pittsburgh at approximately noon on May 31.
The trooper, who is attached to the forensics unit, testified that he photographed the vehicle; located and swapped several apparent blood samples, mostly in the driver's compartment; found plant material in the driver's compartment; and located an automated teller receipt dated "6:35 May 31, '99" with an apparent bloodstain. Also found in the car was an insurance card for a 1996 Chevrolet Blazer, a car care sheet for a Chevrolet Blazer, and road side assistance cards issued by Chevrolet.
Rhinehart said the vehicle had previously been processed for fingerprints by Ohio authorities, but he also processed a print on the back window.
He did not examine the vehicle for gunshot residue, explaining that the residue is "fragile," and the window for recovering such evidence from static objects is approximately six hours.
Rhinehart also processed the body recovery scene, and several photographs of the area where the bodies were located were shown to the jury and admitted into evidence. The trooper testified that a spent bullet casing and two unfired bullets were found near the berm of the road, below the hillside where the bodies were located.
The trooper attended the autopsy of Land, which took place at 4 p.m. June 5, 1999, and that of Muha, which took place immediately afterwards. Rhinehart said he photographed the autopsies and collected physical evidence from the bodies. He identified two bullet fragments removed from Muha's spine. The fragments then were submitted into evidence.
Ed Lulla of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation testified about processing Muha's Chevrolet Blazer.
Yarbrough was arrested after being found driving the vehicle at approximately 6 p.m. May 31, 1999, by Steubenville Police officers. After leading officers on a foot chase of less than a block, he was arrested, identifying himself as "Michael Poole." Brandon Young was a passenger in the vehicle at the time, and he eluded police.
When processing the vehicle, Lulla found two .44 caliber bullets, two jackets, a hooded sweatshirt, two potatoes, a cell phone, medical gauze with apparent blood stains, a first aid kit, two packs of cigarettes, two cigarette butts and a white rug with apparent blood stains.
Lulla said there were areas in the Blazer that had apparent blood stains, and he used a field test to determine a likely positive for those areas. He testified that he had taken swabs of those stains for further lab testing.
Lulla said he made 26 lifts of fingerprints from the vehicle, including from all four doors, the inside of the windshield and from the hatchback. He attempted to lift prints from the inside of the vehicle, but the leather interior was difficult to print and those prints that were lifted were in poor condition, said Lulla.
Steubenville City Police Capt. Charles Sloane, who was a sergeant at the time of the murders, testified about serving a warrant at Herring's home on South Street in Steubenville. Police recovered several items from the home, including a several .44 caliber bullets, similar to those found in Muha's Blazer; a Visa card and a National City Bank card in Muha's name; and articles of clothing that appeared to be blood stained, including a blue- and white-checked shirt from Herring's bedroom. Sloane also testified that officers had found .44 caliber bullets in Herring's bedroom, and briefly spoke about the process of obtaining a search warrant.
Julie Kidd, Federal Bureau of Investigation forensic scientist, testified about the processing of the 175 evidentiary items submitted to the FBI and the results of the testing.
Kidd said she used DNA testing on prioritized items. She noted those clothing items collected from the suspects, which at the time included Yarbrough, Herring and Young, and items from the two recovered vehicles were at the top of the priority list, while the victims' clothing and items collected from the McDowell Avenue apartment were at the bottom.
She explained the victims' clothes were not suitable for testing and those items retrieved from the victims' home were expected to have their blood on them; it could not be established when the blood was deposited; and she was not aware of any struggle in which the assailants were injured to the extent that they bled.
Kidd said that she obtained DNA profiles from all three suspects, but the condition of Land's and Muha's bodies were such that she couldn't create entire profiles for them. Three of 13 genetic markers were readable for Land, and Kidd requested DNA profiles from Muha's mother and father in order to determine if their offspring could have left blood evidence.
Kidd testified that in the BMW, all blood evidence collected was from Herring, including the evidence on the ATM receipt. Blood found on the checked shirt removed from Herring's residence was his own.
Blood found on the jackets and sweatshirt removed from the Blazer belonged to Herring. Blood found in the backseat of the Blazer possibly came from Muha and Land. There was an area in the backseat where Herring's blood had commingled with someone else's blood, possibly Land's. Bloodstains found on the gauze and the white carpet in the Blazer were possibly from Land, according to Kidd.
Of the cigarette butts found in the Blazer, one had DNA from Herring and the second had DNA that possibly came from Yarbrough, said Kidd.
She testified blood found on Yarbrough's sock possibly came from Muha, and blood stains on the front and back of his sweat pants were possibly from Land. Neither the T-shirt nor the shirt Yarbrough was wearing when he was arrested tested positive for blood evidence.
Also during the proceedings, the tape of Doran's 911 call was played for the jurors. On the tape an out-of-breath Doran is heard repeatedly asking for police to come immediately.
"Hurry, please," Doran said on the tape.
Doran testified Monday that he escaped from the apartment through his bedroom window, after being awakened by sounds of a struggle from the family room where Muha was sleeping, and called 911 from a neighbor's home.
Yarbrough and Herring were found guilty of the kidnapping-slayings in Jefferson County, but their murder convictions were overturned by the Ohio Supreme Court, which found that the murders took place in Pennsylvania. Yarbrough also was convicted of aggravated robbery, kidnapping, gross sexual imposition and theft and was sentenced to 59 years in prison in Jefferson County. The state supreme court allowed those charges to stand.
Herring was sentenced to life in prison for the murders, which was vacated, and 65 years for other charges, which also stood. His murder trial in Washington County is pending.
A Jefferson County jury sentenced Yarbrough to death, but the sentence was vacated with the conviction. If he is convicted in Washington County, the Washington County jury may either sentence him to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)