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Trial to begin in ’01 murder case



Published: Sun, January 13, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

Potential jurors will be questioned individually by the court and attorneys.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — It’s been just more than six years since Wendy Miller and three of her children disappeared from their New Castle home.

Come Monday, the man police believe responsible will go on trial for his life in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

District Attorney John Bongivengo said he expects jury selection and the testimony to take three weeks in the homicide and kidnapping charges against Dennis Reed, 37, formerly of New Castle.

Miller, 28, was found dead Dec. 23, 2001, off Neshannock Boulevard Extension, partially hidden by leaves and a rear seat of a car. An autopsy revealed that she was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back of her head.

Three of her four children, then ages 5, 6 and 8, were found in Butler, Pa., with Reed, who was arrested by police when they discovered him driving Miller’s vehicle. Miller’s fourth child was staying with a relative when she and the other children disappeared.

Butler police found cocaine and a loaded semiautomatic firearm on Reed when he was stopped. He was later charged with drug and weapon charges in Butler and has been serving a three- to 10-year state prison sentence on those charges.

Reed’s Lawrence County homicide trial has been on hold for the last six years because he argued through attorneys that a trial in Lawrence County on the homicide and kidnapping charges would constitute double jeopardy because he already had been convicted in Butler County.

The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, however, disagreed and sent the matter back to Lawrence County last spring, Bongivengo said.

Michael Occhibone,, the county’s court administrator, said officials believe jury selection could take as long as three weeks. Fifteen potential jurors a day will be called and each questioned individually, he said.

Police contend that Reed showed up at Miller’s apartment sometime on the night of Dec. 15, 2001, after learning that Miller may have filed a protection-from-abuse order against him.

Court documents show that Miller did have a temporary protection-from-abuse order against Reed, which instructed him to stay away from Miller and her children. It stemmed from three days earlier, when Miller told police Reed slapped, choked and threatened to kill her, according to court documents.

A hearing to make that order permanent had been scheduled the week Miller disappeared. It was unclear whether Reed had ever been served with papers on the matter.

Police said they later pieced together the events of Miller’s disappearance from her children.

The youngsters told police that Reed came into their home in the early hours of Dec. 15, 2001, by breaking a screen. He punched their mother, and Miller and Reed argued, police said. The children were instructed to get dressed.

Police say the children told them Miller and Reed argued in the car about the protection-from-abuse order and other things before they parked near the Neshannock Village public housing complex. Reed and Miller exited the car, talked for a short time and walked away, police said.

The children last saw their mother walking near a building, an area about two-tenths of a mile from where her body was found, police said.

According to police, Reed told the children their mother went to work with a friend when he came back to the vehicle. He drove them to Butler, where they lived in the car for about a week before Butler police arrested him, according to court papers.

cioffi@vindy.com


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