Trial to begin today for state Sen. Regola
Freshman state Sen. Robert Regola III has a Democratic challenger in the November general election, but today he begins facing a more pressing matter in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin in a case in which Mr. Regola, 45, of Hempfield, is charged with crimes related to the July 2006 death of Louis Farrell, a 14-year-old next-door neighbor who the county coroner ruled committed suicide by using the senator's handgun.
Mr. Regola is charged with three counts of perjury in testimony at a coroner's inquest into the death; allowing possession of a firearm by his son, Robert "Bobby" Regola IV, who was then a minor; reckless endangerment; and false swearing.
The trial, including jury selection, is expected to last five to seven days. President Judge John Blahovec will preside but the trial will be held in the larger courtroom of Judge Debra A. Pezze because of the anticipated crowd, including news media, expected to attend.
The opposing lawyers, District Attorney John Peck and defense attorney Duke George, declined to discuss the upcoming trial. However, Mr. George did say that there is "no question" his client is relieved to have gotten to this point in the case.
"He's ready to go," Mr. George said.
Evidence presented at a two-day coroner's inquest into Louis' death indicated that he had used Mr. Regola's 9 mm handgun to shoot himself in the head. Louis' body was found by his father the morning of July 22, 2006, in the woods behind the family home. Next to him was Mr. Regola's Taurus pistol.
In the hours on July 21 before his death, Louis had access to the Regola home because he was dog-sitting for the senator, who was out of town.
Coroner Kenneth A. Bacha officially ruled the death a suicide March 8, 2007, agreeing with findings from the inquest by attorney Thomas Farrell, who presided. After the inquest, Mr. Farrell, who is not related to the victim, suggested the senator wasn't being totally forthcoming about the presence of the gun in the home.
At Mr. Regola's preliminary hearing on the charges, two state troopers testified that he changed his story about where he kept the 9 mm pistol. They said he told them the day the body was found that he had kept the gun in his room for the previous three months but that it was kept in his son's room before that.
The troopers said the senator changed his story under oath at the inquest, saying he had never kept the gun in his son's bedroom. A friend of Bobby testified he had seen him with the gun in his room and that Louis was present.
After his arrest, the senator's spokesman sent reporters an e-mail that said Mr. Regola considered the charges "without merit" and noted that he was not at home when Louis shot himself. In his statement, Mr. Regola wrote that he has been "cooperative and candid" during the investigation.
"I intend to do two things -- defend my innocence on all charges and continue to serve my constituents to the best of my ability," he said in the e-mail.
Bobby, who is now 18, did not testify at the inquest, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination. He is the last person known to have spoken to his friend Louis in a five-minute phone call that began at 11:01 p.m. July 21, 2006.
In a statement to state police, Bobby, who was 16 at the time, said Louis asked him in that phone call to meet him outside; he said he asked Louis to call him back when he was ready, but Louis never did so.
Bobby, who was adjudicated as a juvenile, is serving a year's probation for illegally possessing the handgun.
First Published July 7, 2008 12:00 am