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June 4, 2014

Greco: Seizure of knife is illegal

Cops grabbed four-inch, curved blade from house not on warrant

SUNBURY — A nearly 4-inch-long, nonserrated knife with an upwardly curved blade, found hidden in the attic of a home in Selinsgrove, is inadmissible as evidence in the fatal stabbing case of Troy LaFerrara, Northumberland County’s chief public defender argued Tuesday.

That’s because Sunbury police, who had three days to prepare a warrant, searched a home whose address was different from that on a warrant signed by a Snyder County judge, Ed Greco said during an evidence suppression hearing.

Greco questioned two Sunbury police officers and a woman who was leasing the house where Miranda and Elytte Barbour were living after discovering the address of the home on the search warrant was not where the Barbours were staying.

Under intense questioning by Greco, arresting officers Travis Bremigen, a 14-year veteran, and Cpl. Jamie Quinn, a 20-year-veteran, admitted they included the wrong address on the search warrant issued Dec. 9, three days after Mr. Barbour allegedly admitted to the whereabouts of the blade and his role in the Nov. 11 slaying of the 42-year-old Port Trevorton resident.

“You signed a request for a search warrant and told a judge everything included in the warrant was true and correct,” Greco told Bremigen. “But in fact, they were not true and correct.”

Bremigen admitted officers made mistakes in the warrant, but said he knew the Barbours’ address because he had been there several times before.

“It was a mistake we didn’t catch,” Quinn testified Tuesday. “I had a part in preparing this search warrant. We all worked on this together. Each officer added facts.”

The third officer involved in the preparation of search warrants was Sgt. Chris Blase.

The Dec. 9 search warrant was issued for 101 N. Market St., Selinsgrove, but police served the warrant on Valerie Spring, at 101 N. Water St.

Police entered 101 N. Water St. after receiving information from Mr. Barbour on Dec. 6 that the knife used in the slaying was in the attic, behind insulation. That’s where police claimed to have found the knife.

Mrs. Barbour told police Dec. 3 she had thrown the blade in the Susquehanna River after killing LaFerrara in self-defense, according to court documents.

Police found a nearly 4-inch long, nonserrated knife with an upwardly curved blade at 101 N. Water St.

In the affidavit of probable cause, Bremigen wrote: “Mr. Barbour informed this officer that the knife used to stab Mr. LaFerrara was located in the attic of 101 North Market Street near an appliance behind a piece of wall.”

Retorted Greco: “It doesn’t say it (the knife) was at his (Mr. Barbour’s) residence. It was just a location. And that location you said in the affidavit of probable cause says 101 North Market Street.”

Bremigen references 101 N. Market St. at least two other times in the search warrant and asks a judge to grant the search warrant for that address, which Snyder County Judge Michael Hudock did.

“So you are telling me that this was a key piece of evidence and you wrote down the wrong address?” Greco asked. “A team of police put this search warrant together and had three days to do it and had the wrong address?”

Police arrived at 101 N. Water St. on Dec. 9 and met Spring, who testified she allowed police to enter the home even though she was not sure law enforcement ever gave her a copy of the warrant.

“I told them they didn’t need any warrants and they were allowed to come to my home and search it anytime,” she testified.

Spring allowed the Barbours to live with her at 101 N. Water St. and they didn’t begin to pay rent until Dec. 1, which would have been nearly two months after they arrived in Selinsgrove and three weeks after LaFerrara was slain.

“They were only supposed to stay a few weeks,” Spring testified. “Then I told them they could stay as long as they wanted.”

Spring testified when police arrived Dec. 9, she led them to the attic and that’s where a blade was found.

“I never gave anyone in my house permission to hide anything,” Spring said.

“Everyone living there had to follow my rules of no alcohol, no weapons and nothing illegal was to be in the house because I was on probation.”

Spring was placed on probation after a 2013 DUI offense, according to court documents.

Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor asked Spring whether police gave her the warrant prior to entering her home.

Spring at first said no, then said she was unsure because she didn’t care about the warrant and had told police they could come to the house anytime.

Greco asked Spring why she didn’t remember getting the search warrant considering police took from her home what they believed was the knife allegedly used in a murder.

Greco questioned whether Spring was even home when police arrived shortly after 4 p.m. Dec. 9. Spring claims she was, and said she met officers on the back porch.

Why did police wait three days to get the warrant? Greco asked Bremigen.

Bremigen said he interviewed Mr. Barbour on a Friday and the Snyder County Courthouse was closed over the weekend so he couldn’t get the warrant issued.

A message left with a Snyder County Courthouse employee on Tuesday afternoon to determine whether a court of common pleas judge can be reached during a weekend went unreturned.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini argued there was sufficient cause to sustain the evidence despite the conflicting addresses. Rosini said Spring’s testimony proved the Barbours lived at 101 N. Water St., where the search warrant was issued.

Saylor asked for briefs from Greco by June 24 and by Rosini by July 9.

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