NEW CASTLE Slaying case is sent to trial
Authorities have not decidedif they will pursue the death penalty if Dennis Reed is convicted.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Members of Wendy Miller's family were openly weeping in court as police testified how her body was found last month along the banks of the Neshannock Creek.
One person ran from the courtroom, sobbing loudly, during Thursday's preliminary hearing before District Justice Melissa Amodie as police described finding the body under a discarded car seat and some leaves.
Miller's boyfriend, Dennis Reed, 31, of New Castle has been charged in her death. Amodie ordered Reed bound over to Lawrence County Common Pleas Court on charges of criminal homicide, kidnapping, criminal attempt at burglary, simple assault, unlawful restraint and being a felon with a gun.
Three additional kidnapping charges were also held for trial in the disappearance of three of Miller's children, ages 8, 6 and 5.
Details: Police believe Miller, 28, died in the early hours of Dec. 16 of a single gunshot wound to the back of her head. Her children were found unharmed Dec. 22 in Butler, Pa., with Reed.
Miller's daughter, Jayla, 8, testified Thursday in a courtroom closed to visitors and the press by District Justice Amodie.
Police said the girl told them that Reed forced his way into their Sankey Street home early Dec. 17 and punched her mother.
Reed and her mother argued and Reed forced Miller and her children to leave with him and drove to the Neshannock Village public housing complex, police said.
The daughter told police she last saw her mother walking into the woods with Reed about 1,500 feet from where her body was found, authorities said.
The children spent about a week living in their mother's car with Reed, who drove them to Butler and made short trips to New Castle, according to police reports.
Butler Police Officer Brian Grooms testified that when he arrested Reed on Dec. 23, he found two shell casings in the pocket of Reed's pants.
New Castle Police Detective Sgt. Abram Smith said that a shotgun was found in the car Reed was driving when arrested.
What defense said: Defense attorney Randy Hetrick argued that there was no evidence that the children and Miller were kidnapped, contending testimony indicated they went willingly with Reed.
"At no time did they ask to leave and at no time were they told they could not leave," he said.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Minett noted that Reed knew Miller had petitioned court for a protection-from-abuse order which would have made it illegal for him to be near her.
"He kicks in the front door, beat her and then drug her bodily from the first floor to the second floor. She knew there were guns available [to Reed] and her kids were nearby. She knew she was being taken in an attempt to terrorize her and inflict bodily harm," he said.
Amodie agreed with Minett and bound all charges to court.
The district attorney's office said it hasn't decided whether it will pursue the death penalty for Reed. That decision must be made before his arraignment, which is expected to be in March, Mangino said.
After the hearing, Mark McKnight, the father of Miller's three children who were missing, described the entire experience as a nightmare. Miller also had a child, age 12, with Reed.
McKnight said he is working to help his children deal with their mother's death.