WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA 3 men held in kidnapping, murder of girl 12 years ago



Authorities said DNA evidence links one of the men to the crime.
FRANKLIN, Pa. (AP) -- A district justice Tuesday ordered three men to stand trial on charges they kidnapped and killed an 11-year-old girl last seen walking home from a Girl Scout Halloween party nearly 12 years ago.
The key evidence against defendants Eldred Walker, 45, who goes by "Ted," and brothers James, 32, and Timothy O'Brien, 37, included an FBI analysis of semen found on Shauna Howe's clothes and body.
The DNA evidence links the younger O'Brien to sex acts performed on the girl, prosecutors said.
A state police trooper also testified that Walker told investigators last month that he knew of a plan by the O'Brien brothers to abduct an Oil City child -- who would be released a short time later in what Walker called a "prank" to irritate Oil City police.
District Justice William ruled there was enough evidence for the men to stand trial; a trial date is expected to be set in the next several weeks.
Shauna's disappearance Oct. 27, 1992, has consumed the small town of Oil City in northwestern Pennsylvania. To this day, trick-or-treating is held in daylight hours.
Where body was found
A search party found Shauna's semen-stained leotard two days after she vanished. On Oct. 30, 1992, her body was found near the base of a railroad trestle over a creek not far from where she was abducted.
Authorities have not explained specifically what led a decade to pass between the killing and the suspects' arrests in July.
Venango County authorities Tuesday also called to the stand a jailhouse witness who was Timothy O'Brien's cellmate about three years ago.
The witness, Ryan Heath, said he and Timothy O'Brien were locked down in their cell playing cards as a result of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001. Heath, who is serving a five- to 10-year sentence for aggravated indecent assault, said he and Timothy O'Brien began "talking about crimes that we used to do in the past."
He said O'Brien bragged about his role in the Shauna's disappearance and that he had taken the girl out of a trunk of a car and thrown her body off a bridge.
Heath said Timothy O'Brien provided no other details about Shauna's disappearance or her murder.
James and Timothy O'Brien were held for trial on charges of first- and second-degree homicide, rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse and kidnapping. Walker was ordered to stand trial on charges of second-degree homicide and kidnapping.
All three men remained in the Venango County Jail.
District Attorney Marie Veon has not said whether she'll pursue the death penalty against the O'Briens. The most Walker would receive if convicted is life in prison -- the maximum penalty for second-degree murder.
Neither Veon nor any of the defense attorneys commented after the four-hour hearing because of a gag order imposed by the court.

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