By Keith Gushard
The statements homicide suspects Ashley Barber and Jade Olmstead made to police allegedly confessing to killing an Ohio woman and burying her alive may be used at the suspects’ upcoming trial in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas.
Judge Mark Stevens has ruled the initial detention of the two women by Pennsylvania State Police was valid; and all statements the women subsequently made to police allegedly admitting the crime may be admitted at trial.
Barber, 20, and Olmstead, 20, both of 29558 Drake Hill Road, Cochranton, are set to go to trial in the November term of county court on state police charges of homicide, conspiracy to commit homicide and tampering with physical evidence.
State police accuse the pair in the May 2012 death of Brandy Stevens, 19.
Police allege Barber and Olmstead lured Stevens to their Wayne Township home, brutally beat Stevens and then buried Stevens in a 22-inch deep grave in the woods near the home while Stevens still was alive on May 17, 2012.
Police allege the three women were involved in a love triangle.
In his ruling, Judge Stevens said Pennsylvania State Police got involved by assisting Ohio authorities in Brandy Stevens’ disappearance since Brandy Stevens had intended to travel to the Barber home to visit the two women, according to testimony at a pretrial hearing in county court Aug. 29.
Brandy Stevens’ Kia Rio was found at the Barber home on Drake Hill Road, but she was not found. Police had spoken with Barber and Olmstead at the home but wanted to speak with them further about Brandy Stevens.
Judge Stevens said that James Barber, Ashley Barber’s father, also had signed a Pennsylvania State Police “Missing Person Declaration” alleging his daughter was missing.
Both Barber and Olmstead were found the afternoon of May 23, 2012, by Trooper Joseph Streyle, who was off-duty at the time and traveling at the Park Avenue Plaza.
Streyle testified he spotted the women near the woods under the overpass of Smock Bridge in Vernon Township; that the women matched the descriptions of Barber and Olmstead; and that both women turned away from him when he drove by them in his own vehicle.
The women then get in a car driven by an unknown man and Streyle decided to follow after, contacting the state police barracks in Meadville. Streyle caught up with the vehicle at a traffic light at Willow Street and Park Avenue in Meadville. Streyle said he exited his vehicle, identified himself as a state trooper, showing the driver his police badge, and asked the driver to park in the parking lot of the former Sandy’s European Marketplace building.
Stevens found Streyle’s actions were “reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances. In fact, the court commends Streyle for his observation and for recognizing the significance of what he was observing and taking some action, which at the time was believed, at least in part, to try and find a missing person.”
The defense had argued the stop was in effect an arrest as they were asked to wait for state police and then asked to go to the state police barracks for questioning.
However, Judge Stevens found there “is no evidence to suggest that defendants felt as if they were not free to leave.” He said the stop by Streyle was to investigate the individuals in order to help the Brandy Stevens missing persons case.
“Both Barber and Olmstead unequivocally, without coercion, voluntarily and of their own free will, based upon the totality of all the evidence presented at the time of the omnibus pretrial motion, consented to go to the barracks to assist in the Brandy Stevens missing person investigation,” Judge Stevens said in his order. “They were at times argumentative or disagreeable, but they at no point in time appeared to be acting subject to force or coercion or outside of their own free will.”
Once at the barracks, the women allegedly eventually confessed to police during interrogation that they used a shovel to beat Brandy Stevens, cracked open Stevens’ skull and choked her with a rope before placing her in the shallow grave and burying her while she still was alive.
Judge Stevens said he reviewed testimony from the hearing, listened to audio recordings of the interrogation of the two defendants and watched portions of a video recording of the interrogations.
Barber and Olmstead both remain jailed without bond awaiting trial.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.