By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Because Miranda Barbour was not afforded an attorney when she asked for one repeatedly during two police interviews, her alleged confession — that she stabbed Troy LaFerrara — was obtained illegally, Northumberland County chief public defender Ed Greco said in a motion filed in Northumberland County Court on Monday.
Greco also filed a motion to have Miranda Barbour tried separately from her husband, Elytte Barbour, even though Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini is asking for the married couple to be tried together.
Greco asked the court to consider the issue of spousal privilege as a complicating factor if the case is tried together, and putting Elytte Barbour on trial with Miranda Barbour would be highly prejudicial to Miranda Barbour’s case, he said.
Greco also asked for Miranda Barbour’s trial to be moved out of the county or at least have a change of venire, which means selecting a jury from outside the county.
Because of extensive media coverage of the case, his client would not receive a fair trial, Greco said.
Greco, who believes trying Elytte and Miranda Barbour together would be “highly prejudicial,” said in his motion for severance: “The issue of spousal privilege would complicate the case if both husband and wife are tried together.”
“In Pennsylvania, spouses are generally entitled to several different spousal privileges,” Luzerne County criminal defense attorney Edward Olexa said about Greco filing the motion. “Confidential communications between spouses are protected from disclosure in criminal cases.
“Additionally, persons have a privilege not to testify against their then-lawful spouse. This is a privilege that can be waived. However, by statute, this particular privilege generally does not apply in murder cases.” Olexa, a former Luzerne County assistant district attorney and public defender, agreed to give his professional opinion on legal issues, but not specifically about the Barbours’ case.
Greco’s motions will be argued during a hearing at 1:15 p.m. Feb. 26 before Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor.
Saylor also granted Greco permission to hire Clarence Watson, a forensic and general psychiatrist from Bala Cynwyd, to evaluate Miranda Barbour at $400 per hour and not to exceed $10,000.
Saylor less than a week ago also granted attorney James Best permission to hire a forensic psychiatrist to evaluate his client, Elytte Barbour.
Greco claims the alleged confession by Miranda Barbour was obtained illegally because his client was not provided an attorney at interviews despite repeatedly requesting one.
During a police interview held at the Selinsgrove state police station, police claim Miranda Barbour arrived and was not under arrest when she began to speak with them. Police went as far as calling Snyder County District Attorney Mike Piecuch to the station, court documents said. Piecuch arrived and informed Miranda Barbour that she was not under arrest, so she would not be entitled to a public defender, court documents said.
Miranda Barbour allegedly told police she stabbed LaFerrara after he began to grope her and grab her neck on a ride to Sunbury on Nov. 11.
Barbour told police she met LaFerrara on Craigslist, where she posted an ad offering companionship for money, according to police.
“Generally speaking, persons have a right to have counsel present when they are subjected to custodial interrogation,” Olexa said. “This is a two-part test — custody and interrogation are both generally required. So the issue may be whether Ms. Barbour was in custody and if so, whether she was undergoing interrogation in the legal sense, that is, whether the police were asking her questions that were likely to elicit an incriminating response. If the court finds that the defendant was in custody and questioned without her right to counsel, it could be grounds to exclude a statement or alleged confession.”
Greco has a good point wanting to move the trial or bring in an outside jury because of extensive media coverage, Olexa said.
“It is relevant because some types of pretrial publicity can taint the potential jury panel,” he said.
“The defense could argue that in cases where there is particularly heavy media coverage such coverage creates such a great prejudice that it deprives their client of a fair trial.”
Greco is seeking all statements and police reports at least two weeks prior to a suppression hearing and wants to hire a private investigator to review LaFerrara’s computer and cellphones.
On Dec. 6, just three days after Miranda Barbour, 19, of Selinsgrove, was arrested, Elytte Barbour, 22, of Selinsgrove, told police he was hiding in the backseat of his wife’s vehicle. After a sign was given, he popped up from under a blanket and began to strangle LaFerrara with a cord while his wife began to stab the 42-year old Port Trevorton resident, according to police documents.
Elytte Barbour told police the couple wanted to kill someone, anyone, together, court documents said.
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