The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 30, 2014

Not a witness for the prosecution

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— Northumberland County District Attorney Anthony Rosini decided Friday, in an emergency hearing before Judge Charles Saylor, not to put reporter Francis Scarcella on the witness stand in the role of a witness for the state after all.

The background here is that Scarcella did a jailhouse interview with accused and incarcerated murder suspect Miranda Barbour. She and her newlywed husband Elytte Barbour had been charged with plotting and executing the murder of Port Trevorton resident Troy LaFerrara.

It is a dark tale, as many readers know.

Miranda, age 18 at the time and mother of some other father’s child, solicited company through Craigslist on the Internet last November to get cash needed to celebrate Elytte’s 22nd birthday at a strip club in Harrisburg.

Elytte maintained that his wife had dates with older, lonely men who would pay $50 to $850 for delightful conversation with his drug user, school dropout, go-go dancer, satanic cultist spouse.

Why Elytte rode along under a cover in the back seat, armed with a choker cable and prepared to spring into action at a pre-rehearsed signal from Miranda, tended to contradict his account. Hers, too.

She presented herself as an avenger of underage molestation victims, having been one herself since age four.

Miranda Bourbour said she was a serial killer who hates, with a murderous passion, men who took advantage of underage females and that the reason she plunged a large knife into Troy LaFerrara Nov. 11 more than a dozen times was because she told LaFerrara she was only 16 and he still wanted to be intimate.

Much of what has made its way into the press originated with Scarcella’s Valentine’s Day interview of Miranda in Northumberland County Prison.

That was prosecutor Rosini’s hook for turning reporter Scarcella into a witness for the state.

Here is the rub. Three lawyers — Rosini, attorney Ed Greco representing Miranda Barbour and county commissioner Rick Shoch, an attorney who chairs the county prison board — fought the jailhouse interview tooth and nail — eventually shuttling Miranda Barbour off in the gloom of twilight to a state prison in Muncy.

Throughout all the shenanigans, we never resorted to legal recourse. If anyone’s legal rights to assemble or communicate or confess were being dusted, they were prisoner Barbour’s rights. Barbour stuck to her request to talk with a reporter. That produced the previously mentioned jailhouse interview in Northumberland County Prison, where she said what she did and characterized her avenging motive and claimed to be what amounts to the biggest serial killer in the history of the world.

Here is the second rub. Jailers did not allow Scarcella to take a notepad or tape recorder to that meeting. But the jail taped the interview. Scarcella knew it. Miranda Barbour knew it. Scarcella was instructed to preface his questions with the phrase, “knowing that this interview is possibly being taped by authorities . . .,” which Scarcella did.

The Daily Item never had the tape. It went from the jail to police to the prosecutor. It is their tape. If they need to know anything that was asked or answered, they had it on a record that was better than Scarcella’s recollection.

They also had a female corrections officer who was in the room and another inmate and that inmate’s visitor who were also in the room who saw and heard Scarcella and Barbour’s discussion.

There were no magic tricks here. The state did not need Scarcella on the stand for the evidence. They had better evidence. They had other witnesses.

For the sake of neutrality and independence, we did not want a reporter identified as a witness for the prosecution. We saw no reason why the district attorney needed a newspaper reporter.

Prosecutors who want to extract testimony from a newspaper usually need to show that the newspaper had what the prosecutor needs and it cannot be found anywhere else.

In short, 1) he needs it, 2) we have it, and 3) he cannot find it any other way.

In this instance, District Attorney Rosini, at best, had one out of three.

Our attorney thanked Judge Charles Saylor for quickly hearing on the motion that allowed our reporter to go on being neutral and independent.

That meant a lot to us.

Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News