Hearing delayed in Howe case


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The attorney for one of the Oil City brothers accused of abducting and murdering 11-year-old Shauna Howe wants more time to prepare for a preliminary hearing.

Assistant public defender Paul Yessler, on behalf of Timothy Michael O'Brien, filed a motion Tuesday morning in Venango County Central Court to continue O'Brien's preliminary hearing to either July 22 or July 23. Yessler is also asking the court to allot an entire day for the hearing.

Hearings for O'Brien, 37, his younger brother, James Eric O'Brien, 32, and third co-defendant Eldred "Ted" Walker, 44, also of Oil City, had originally been scheduled for 8:30 a.m. today in the Venango County Courthouse before District Justice William G. Martin.

The three will have a joint preliminary hearing once a date can be agreed upon by all parties, according to Venango County District Attorney Marie Veon.

Veon said a date would be set depending on availability of witnesses, her schedule and the defense attorneys' schedules.

At the hearing, a district justice will decide whether there is enough evidence against the three men to their send their cases to the Venango County Court of Common Pleas.

Neither Walker nor James O'Brien had counsel listed by the end of the workday Tuesday, according to central court administrator Christy Ralston.

Yessler said Walker, who works at a local retail store, does not qualify financially for the services of a public defender. At the same time, Yessler questioned whether Walker could afford to hire an attorney and said he "wouldn't be in the least surprised for the court to appoint someone" to represent him.

James O'Brien is eligible for a court-appointed attorney, according to Yessler. But co-defendants can't be represented by the public defender's office because of conflict of counsel issues.

Timothy and James O'Brien were arraigned Friday on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, kidnapping, rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges in connection with the kidnapping and death of Howe.

According to investigators, the brothers abducted the girl on Oct. 27, 1992, as she walked home from a Girl Scout Halloween party, and raped and sexually assaulted her before intentionally killing her. She was snatched from the corner of Reed and West First streets in Oil City, about two blocks from her home.

Howe's body was found two-and-a-half days after her disappearance beneath a railroad bridge in East Sandy Creek at Coulter's Hole in Rockland Township.

Walker, who was arrested late Saturday morning, was charged with second-degree murder and kidnapping.

According to police documents filed Friday in district court, Walker admitted in a 2002 interview with police that he had been present at Howe's kidnapping with Timothy O'Brien and that "... both James and Timothy O'Brien carried the victim into his house and up the stairs."

Walker denied any involvement in the kidnapping during an interview with the newspaper on Friday following the arrests of the O'Brien brothers.

Under the law, murder of the first degree, an ungraded felony, is punishable by death or life in prison. Murder of the second degree, also an ungraded felony, is punishable by life imprisonment.

Yessler said he doesn't know if Veon will seek the death penalty for his client, but he said the district attorney has the option and can choose to seek death for one, both or neither of the brothers.

Veon chose not to comment Tuesday on whether she will be pursuing the death penalty.

"The case will be tried in front of the jury," she said. "I'm glad that we're are this point - that we can proceed to try this case in front of a jury."

On whether Venango County jurors would be picked for the case, Veon said she doesn't know at this point. A jury could be brought in from out of town or the trial moved to another location, a practice sometimes used in high profile murder cases.

Even though DNA results linked James O'Brien to the case two years ago, the investigation has still been ongoing, according to Veon.

On why two years lapsed before the arrests were made, Veon said, "That is a complicated answer, and there are almost too many things to try to list."

"I believe that the killer is still out there," Yessler, who met with Timothy O'Brien on Saturday, said Tuesday morning.

The three co-defendants, each lodged at the Venango County jail in lieu of $250,000 bail, are currently under lockdown and have no contact with one another or any other inmates, according to jail Warden Ron Snyder.