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Pa. man found guilty in ’01 shooting



Published: Fri, February 1, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

The defendant offered no testimony during trial.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — Dennis Reed should know today whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be sent to Pennsylvania’s death row.

Reed, 37, was convicted of first-degree homicide Thursday afternoon in the shotgun death of his estranged girlfriend Wendy Miller in 2001. It took jurors in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court about 3 1/2 hours to come to a decision on the homicide and kidnapping charges involving Miller’s three children.

The jury acquitted Reed on a kidnapping charge regarding 28-year-old Miller.

“I think the jurors took their time and considered everything carefully,” said John Bongivengo, county district attorney. “They came to the right decision as far as I’m concerned. When you look at it as a whole, the kidnapping [acquittal] on Wendy makes sense. On the whole she was trying to get him away from her kids.”

Jurors also found Reed guilty of interference of custody and unlawful restraint of Miller’s three children, the oldest of whom was 8 at the time.

Miller and Reed had been high school sweethearts and had one son together when in high school. At some point they became estranged, and Miller had three children with another man.

In 2001, Reed and Miller reunited, but by that October, Miller had sought her first protection from abuse order from Reed. That matter was not pursued in court, but Miller sought a second protection order in early December 2001.

It was after Reed learned about the order, but was never formally served with the papers, that he showed up in the middle of the night at Miller’s Sankey Street apartment.

Miller’s daughter, who was 8 at the time, testified at trial that she let Reed inside and he ran upstairs and punched her mother. The two argued and he hit Miller again, the daughter said.

At some point, Miller’s three children were ordered to dress and get in their mother’s car. The son Miller and Reed shared was staying at another relative’s home that night. The daughter testified they eventually ended up at the Neshannock Village public housing complex and Reed and Miller left the car.

The pair walked off, and Reed returned later alone, telling the children their mother went to work with a friend.

The children remained with Reed in the car for the next week as he drove back and forth from New Castle to Butler, not allowing them to leave the car even for the bathroom.

The car, Miller and the children were reported missing by Miller’s family. Butler police found the vehicle with Reed and the children about a week later. Miller was found a day later in the woods near Neshannock Village with a single gunshot wound to the back of her head.

Reed offered no defense witnesses during the weeklong trial.

His attorney, Randall Hetrick, gave a closing statement to jurors arguing that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Reed was guilty of homicide in Miller’s death and kidnapping of her and her three children.

Hetrick focused on inconsistencies between the testimony of the victim’s daughter and a statement she made to police shortly after her mother’s death.

He argued that Miller and the children left willingly with Reed.

But Bongivengo, who prosecuted the case along with Tom Minett, assistant district attorney, told jurors that Miller and the youngsters were afraid of Reed.

“They were terrified of that man. They did exactly what he wanted, exactly how he wanted it done,” Bongivengo said.

He added the children were missing for a week after their mother’s death, and Reed made no attempt to return them.

“If it’s not kidnapping, why didn’t he bring those kids back to her family?” Bongivengo said.

The jury was expected to return today to start the penalty phase. Bongivengo said the prosecution should have its case finished by noon.

cioffi@vindy.com


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