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Testimony begins in murder trial in New Castle



Published: Wed, May 27, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

The police officer who first responded described the murder victim’s injuries.

STAFF REPORT

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — Opening arguments in a trial that could end with a death sentence in the beating of an East Long Avenue man began Tuesday in Lawrence County common pleas court.

Michael Roberts, 29, who lived on Lathrop Street in New Castle, is accused of bludgeoning Danny Palumbo, 48, with a bar stool in Palumbo’s basement March 25, 2005, sometime between 10:30 and 11 a.m.

Palumbo’s 14-year-old daughter found her father lying on the basement floor and called for help. Palumbo died the next day at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown.

After taking two weeks to seat a jury, lawyers gave opening statements Tuesday morning.

Palumbo, authorities said, was a drug dealer who sold OxyContin.

But though the prosecution set out to prove that it was Roberts who went to Palumbo’s house that morning in search of the drug, later telling three people that he had killed Palumbo, the defense said that Palumbo’s lifestyle left him vulnerable — there were likely a lot of people who would have motive to kill him.

Assistant District Attorney Diane Shaffer said that Roberts knew how Palumbo died — something that was never reported publicly.

Defense attorney Lee M. Rothman of Pittsburgh said, however, that the three people the prosecution spoke of and will call as witnesses are not credible.

They all had something to gain, he said. “Each one is getting something — getting out of jail, a reduction in sentence,” he said.

He also said that some DNA obtained from the bar stool matches neither Palumbo’s nor Roberts’.

Rothman also said there is evidence that Roberts was asleep on a friend’s couch while the murder was taking place, but police investigated only part of his alibi and discredited it.

Testifying Tuesday was New Castle police officer Richard Conti, who was the first to arrive after the call for help. He said Palumbo’s face was so crushed that he at first believed he’d been shot. He said the injury could have been consistent with being shot in the face at point-blank range. Conti also testified that a canvas bag containing more that $22,000 in cash was recovered in the laundry room at Palumbo’s house.


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