WASHINGTON, Pa. - After seven hours of deliberations, jurors in Terrell Yarbrough's murder trial were allowed to go home at approximately 11:40 p.m. Monday by Judge John F. DiSalle, with proceedings to reconvene at 11 a.m. today.
Yarbrough, 28, of Pittsburgh is charged with two counts of criminal homicide and two counts of conspiracy to commit criminal homicide in Washington County Common Pleas Court. Yarbrough and Nathan "Boo" Herring are accused of the 1999 kidnapping-slaying of Aaron Land, 20, of Philadelphia and Brian Muha, 18, of Westerville, Ohio.
Jurors began deliberations at 4:30 p.m. Monday, following closing arguments and the judge's instructions.
In his closing statement, defense attorney Ken Haber argued that Yarbrough had no intent to murder Land or Muha and was acting as a lookout in a crime "orchestrated" by Herring.
"This crime is so horrible, we're going to blame everybody," Haber said. "We're going to blame Terrell Yarbrough. They can't come into this courtroom and say that Boo Herring is a monster, so convict Terrell Yarbrough."
He pointed to testimony by Barbara Vey, whom Herring and Yarbrough had allegedly carjacked later on May 31, 1999, that Yarbrough had stepped between Herring and Vey.
"He said, 'don't shoot her, don't shoot her,' and shielded me from the other man, that I thought was going to shoot me," said Haber, reading from a transcript of Vey's previous testimony. "He did seem to be my protector."
The situation had extended beyond what Yarbrough had "bought into," when he had agreed to aid in the robbery of Land and Muha's apartment, said Haber.
"Getting in between the barrel of that gun and Barbara Vey was Terrell Yarbrough, knowing that Boo Herring had just pulled the trigger on that gun two times to brutally kill two innocent human beings," he said. "He knows what Herring is capable of, he still did it, he still stepped in between. We will never know if he (Herring) would have shot Vey, but we know it was possible, but he (Yarbrough) stood between them her impression that he was comforting her, protecting her. How was this someone who set out on May 31, 1999 with the intent to take human life?"
Haber urged jurors not to allow emotions to cloud their judgment and asked them to look at the evidence objectively and fairly.
"We all have sympathy for the families of the victims and disgust for what happened," said Haber.
He told the jurors to follow the physical evidence of the gun, noting that Yarbrough had told police about an incident in which Herring had pistol whipped a man a day or two before the murders, that Herring had threatened Barbara Vey with a gun when he and Yarbrough stole her green BMW the day of the murders, and, two years after the murders, a .44 caliber Smith & Wesson, missing its grip, cylinder and main spring, was found in the wall of Herring's uncle's Huber Heights, Ohio home, wrapped in a towel and the fourth page of a search warrant served on Herring's South Street, Steubenville home June 2, 1999.
"It was he who decided to wave his big gun in the face of Barbara Vey and carjack her, and it was he, Boo Herring, who made the decision to kill Aaron Land and Brian Muha, and it was he, Boo Herring, who carried it out," said Haber.
Herring had left bullets at nearly every crime scene Muha's 1996 black Blazer, Vey's green BMW, and along the berm of U.S. Route 22, where Land and Muha were killed and bullets were found at Herring's home, said Haber.
He also said that, at no time during the trial, was the prosecution able to tie Yarbrough to a weapon, either through witness testimony or physical evidence.
"He wasn't crying enough, he wasn't serious enough, this 18-year-old kid who was interrogated for two and a half hours over two days," he said.
Haber told jurors that Yarbrough had cooperated with the police, telling them about the involvement of Herring and telling them to search both Herring's home and where Yarbrough was staying.
"These aren't the words of someone who is guilty and fears what may be found," said Haber.
Haber said Yarbrough was acting as a lookout during the robbery and was outside the home and therefore saw Land and Muha's roommate, Andrew Doran, escape through his bedroom window, after which Doran ran to a neighbor's home and called 911.
"He must be outside there's no other way (to witness Doran's escape)," he said. "Can you still have the intent to kill if you have no gun? He did not kill anybody because he had no gun. He was a lookout. Boo Herring orchestrated this every step of the way. He (Yarbrough) didn't go there to rob or beat or kill."
Haber also questioned the investigation, asking why blood found in Land and Muha's apartment wasn't tested against the accused assailants. He also questioned the interview technique of Steubenville City Police Det. John Lelless, who first interviewed Yarbrough on May 31, 1999. A tape of that interview, and one conducted by Lelless on June 3, 1999 were played for the jury during the trial.
He described Land's and Muha's blood found on Yarbrough's sweat pants as "a few specks, here and there," telling jurors that Lelless did not initially notice the blood on his clothing during the May 31, 1999 interview.
Haber also pointed out the discovery of Muha's National City Bank and Visa cards at Herring's home and photos from an automated teller machine at 6:30 a.m. May 31, 1999 which apparently show Herring attempting to withdraw money with Muha's card.
"The person who was trying to rob and get money from Brian Muha after killing him was Boo Herring," he said.
In his closing arguments, Washington County Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas pointed out various inconsistencies in taped statements made by Yarbrough to Steubenville police officers in 1999, including giving a false name and false address, as indications of his consciousness of guilt.
He also pointed to Yarbrough's taped statements to the Pennsylvania State Police that he would receive a payment of $200 for acting as a lookout, telling jurors that greed was a motive.
"Brian Muha and Aaron Land lost their lives for $200 that was all their lives were worth to him," said Lucas. "Aaron and Brian were taken across two state lines and they were marched up that hill and they were executed, all for $200. They (the defense) have minimized and deflected your attention from the cruel and brutal crime of murder."
He also pointed to taped statements in which Yarbrough said that Herring would kill if he did not receive the $1,000 that he said was owed to him. He then described preparations that the two took, including putting handkerchiefs over their faces to avoid identification.
"He knew that he wasn't just a witness," said Lucas.
Yarbrough could not have seen Andrew Doran exiting through his window from the front porch of the McDowell Avenue home, and his description of Doran's movements and the direction he took were inaccurate, said Lucas.
He also questioned how Yarbrough was able to know what was going on from outside of the house, when Doran was unsure what was going on while he was inside the house.
"Andrew Doran couldn't tell you that, and he was in the house," said Lucas. "He wasn't just a lookout, he was there."
He also spoke about how Doran had testified that he had met one of the attacker's eyes when he had re-entered the home in an attempt to locate his roommates and how Yarbrough, in a taped statement, said he had met Doran's eyes when he escaped the home.
Lucas pointed out inconsistencies in Yarbrough's statements on who was driving Muha's Blazer when Muha and Land were driven 11 miles over the West Virginia-Pennsylvania border. At various times, Yarbrough stated that either Herring or another acquaintance, Brandon Young, were driving. Prints from all three men were found on the vehicle, and the largest number were Yarbrough's, the majority of which were found in the driver's compartment, according to testimony.
"Someone had to drive while Boo Herring's blood mixed with Aaron Land's in the back of the vehicle someone who was in, in for $200," said Lucas.
Lucas also pointed to the absence of any evidence tying Young to the case, noting that, in the ATM photos, only Herring and Yarbrough are shown, and, at Vey's home, only Herring and Yarbrough attacked her. There also was no DNA evidence linking Young to the case.
"I submit that Brandon Young was thrown into this to deflect attention," said Lucas.
He also doubted accounts that Yarbrough was frightened of Herring and in fear for his life, noting that following their visit to the ATM, the two went to the East Liberty home Yarbrough shared with his mother and his sister and her children.
"He took him home, they had something to eat and played video games," Lucas said. "There were no tears shed while they played video games."
Lucas pointed out that Yarbrough at first said he was inside the vehicle when the murders took place, then outside the vehicle, then on the hillside with Herring.
"Terrell Yarbrough was up that hill, and he finally admits it," he said. "Blood was low on his sweat pants, and, yes, it was small dots. It is evidence that he was standing over or next to Aaron Land as Aaron suffered major trauma. That also was how he got the blood on his sock, because he was there when they were being killed."
Lucas dismissed theories that Yarbrough did not realize Land and Muha's ultimate fate.
"March two people up a hill like that, there's no mystery," he said. "When you force them to get down on their knees, there's no mystery."
He also spoke about the crime scene photos of the two victims.
"They shouldn't have to be depicted in a courtroom like this," he said. "This thicket, this brush, they didn't just fall into it. They were placed there. Mr. Haber would like you to believe that one man can do all of it."
Lucas then told jurors that Land was forced up the rocky hillside barefoot and that both men had been beaten before being taken up the hill.
"Someone has to walk him (Land) up the hill," he said. "Someone has to take care of Brian Muha. Someone assisted. One man can't do it all."
After Land and Muha were dead, their bodies were robbed, including $15 from Land and Muha's wallet, including his bank and credit cards, and Muha's rosary was taken, said Lucas.
According to witness testimony, Yarbrough was wearing Muha's rosary when he was arrested.
"An innocent bystander?" said Lucas. "This is a cold-blooded killer he kept a trophy."
Lucas said Yarbrough's motives in Vey's carjacking weren't altruistic and said that Yarbrough had chosen the area and the victim. He told Herring not to shoot Vey and stepped in between them because he knew that Herring would listen to him, Lucas said.
"When she's huddling outside her apartment and says 'just go, I can't identify you,' Boo Herring turns his face away, but he (Yarbrough) lifts up her chin and kisses her. He wants her to know," Lucas said. "That is in your face someone who is in control."
When Yarbrough was arrested by Steubenville City Police at approximately 6 p.m. May 31, 1999 after he was spotted driving Muha's Blazer and led police on a foot chase of less than a block, he did not tell them that Young, who also had been in the car and had eluded arrest, was involved in a crime and he denied any knowledge of Land and Muha.
"You can do what Andrew Doran couldn't do. Take that hood down, take that handkerchief away and expose the killer of Brian Muha and Aaron Land," Lucas said.
The judge gave jurors instructions on points of law concerning conspiracy, accomplices, malice, intent, consciousness of guilt, kidnapping and robbery.
Following a question by the jury at 6 p.m. Monday, trial participants assembled while DiSalle gave additional instructions. The jurors asked whether they could listen to one of Yarbrough's previously taped statements, and DiSalle told them that they must rely on their memories. The jurors also asked about the difference between murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree, and DiSalle reiterated the different degrees of murder for the jury, which then returned to deliberations.
Also Monday, Pennsylvania State Trooper Pierre Wilson testified about the search for Land and Muha and the recovery of their bodies. During his testimony, photos of the scene and Land's and Muha's bodies were shown to the jurors.
The jury may return a verdict of guilty or not guilty to murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree or murder in the third degree on two counts of criminal homicide. They may also return a verdict of guilty or not guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit criminal homicide, according to DiSalle.
If convicted, Yarbrough could be sentenced to death or life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Land and Muha were students at the Franciscan University of Steubenville when they were kidnapped from their home at 165 McDowell Ave. in Steubenville shortly after 5 a.m. on May 31, 1999. Yarbrough and Herring are accused of ordering the two students into Muha's 1996 black Chevrolet Blazer, then driving them to a section of U.S. Route 22 near the Bavington exit in Robinson Township, Pa., where they were killed.
Yarbrough and Herring were both found guilty of the kidnapping-slayings in Jefferson County, but their murder convictions were overturned by the Ohio Supreme Court, which found that the murders took place in Pennsylvania. Yarbrough also was convicted in Jefferson County of aggravated robbery, kidnapping, gross sexual imposition and theft and was sentenced to 59 years in prison. The state supreme court allowed those charges to stand.
Herring was sentenced to life in prison for the murders, a sentence which was vacated, and 65 years on other charges, which also stood. His murder trial in Washington County is pending.
A Jefferson County jury sentenced Yarbrough to death, but the sentence was vacated with the conviction.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at email@example.com)