Retrial begins in '99 slayings of 2 college students

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After eight days of jury selection and a one-hour delay due to a sick juror, the retrial of Terrell Yarbrough in the slayings of two college students began this morning in Washington County court.

Mr. Yarbrough, 29, formerly of East Liberty, was convicted nine years ago by an Ohio court and sentenced to die for the 1999 slayings of Aaron Land, 20, of Philadelphia, and Brian Muha, 18, of Westerville, Ohio.

However, when the Ohio Supreme Court automatically reviewed the case -- as it does with all death penalty cases -- it threw out the murder and conspiracy convictions against Mr. Yarbrough, saying the case should have been tried in Pennsylvania, where the victims were found several days after they went missing.

Mr. Yarbrough and a co-defendant, Nathan "Boo" Herring, were accused of robbing and kidnapping Mr. Land and Mr. Muha from their off-campus apartment near Franciscan University in Steubenville on May 31, 1999.

During opening statements this morning, Washington County Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas told the jury of nine women and three men that he would present evidence that Mr. Yarbrough was caught driving Mr. Muha's 1996 Chevrolet Blazer less than 24 hours after the students disappeared.

After initially denying involvement in the crime, Mr. Yarbrough confessed to police that he was present during the murders, Mr. Lucas said. The defendant led police to a steep hillside along Route 22 in Robinson, Washington County, where their bodies were found under a thicket of wild roses.

Defense lawyer Kenneth Haber, though, said new evidence in the case points to Mr. Herring as the triggerman in the homicides.

Two years after the murder, and after the men were convicted in Ohio, Mr. Haber said, a .44-caliber revolver was found wrapped in towels and stuffed into in a heating duct at the western Ohio home of Mr. Herring's uncle.

Also wrapped around the gun was a search warrant police obtained two years earlier to search Mr. Herring's home. During the initial search, police testified they found .44-caliber bullets and a bank card belonging to Mr. Muha.

Mr. Herring is to be tried separately.

Testimony is expected to begin this afternoon in front of Common Pleas Court Judge John DiSalle.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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