By Keith Gushard
The homicide trial for two young Cochranton area women — accused of luring an Ohio woman to their Wayne Township home in May and killing her — has been postponed until at least March while the women undergo mental health evaluations.
Following a 45-minute hearing Friday in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Mark Stevens ordered a psychiatric hearing for Ashley Marie Barber, 19, to determine if Barber is mentally competent to stand trial and whether she understands the criminal responsibility for the crimes for which she is charged.
Stevens also ordered a psychiatric exam for co-defendant Jade Marie Olmstead, 19, but her exam is only to determine if Olmstead understands her potential culpability in the case.
Barber and Olmstead, both of 29558 Drake Hill Road, Cochranton, each are charged with one count of criminal homicide, conspiracy to commit criminal homicide and tampering with physical evidence.
The two women are accused by Pennsylvania State Police of luring Brandy M. Stevens, 19, of Beaver Township, Mahoning County, Ohio, to their home in Wayne Township in May, brutally beating her and burying her in the woods while Stevens was still alive. Police allege the crime stemmed from a love-triangle between the three women.
Barber’s defense attorney, Robert Draudt, argued his client was incapable of understanding the proceedings and that a psychiatric examination was necessary by the court. Draudt said no psychiatric examination for Barber had been scheduled.
Olmstead’s defense attorney, John Knorr, argued that his client also needed a psychiatric examination and had made preliminary arrangements with a Pittsburgh area psychiatrist, but no appointment was set.
Knorr told Judge Stevens that Olmstead suffers from depression and anxiety and is on a variety of medications. Knorr said Olmstead had attempted suicide at both age 12 and age 16.
Olmstead’s psychiatric examination and a report on the results can be presented to the court before Feb. 28, Knorr said.
District Attorney Francis Schultz had no objections to the exams for either woman.
Both Barber and Olmstead were scheduled to go on trial during the January criminal term of county court that begins Monday.
However in issuing the order for psychiatric examinations for both women, Stevens also ordered their trial moved to the March term of county criminal court. Stevens noted to both the defense and prosecution that they will stick with that schedule for now, though it’s likely the trial may be moved from the March term as well.
Stevens took no action Friday on a motion to suppress potential evidence in the case and a motion to separate the women’s cases into two trials. Stevens ruled those matters will be taken up at a later date.
In testimony at the July 25, 2012, preliminary hearing for Barber and Olmstead, police alleged the women admitted to being involved in a homosexual relationship and that they lured Stevens to Wayne Township on May 17, 2012, and attacked and killed her. Olmstead allegedly had been involved in a previous abusive relationship with Stevens, according to testimony at the hearing.
The women allegedly admitted to beating Stevens with a shovel, cracking open the woman’s skull, choking her with a rope and placing Stevens in a shallow grave 22 inches deep, while Stevens was still alive, and burying her, according to testimony at the hearing.
Barber and Olmstead both allegedly told police that they burned Stevens’ shoes, some of Stevens’ personal possessions, and their own bloodstained clothing to cover their alleged crime, according to testimony in the hearing.
District Attorney Schultz plans only to seek first-degree murder convictions against Barber and Olmstead that carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
On Aug. 24, 2012, Schultz issued a statement saying he wouldn’t seek the death penalty against either woman.
Schultz said he had consulted other prosecutors in his office, Pennsylvania State Police and Stevens’ family before making the decision public.
“Although the allegations surrounding the murder of Brandy Stevens suggest that the attack that led to her death was brutal, those allegations alone are not sufficient to warrant the seeking of the death penalty under Pennsylvania law,” the statement said.
Under Pennsylvania law, a prosecutor may only seek the death penalty in a case of an alleged first-degree murder if at least one of 18 aggravating circumstances is present.
“In this case, there is no evidence to prove any of the death penalty’s qualifying aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement said.
Both Barber and Olmstead remain without bond in the Crawford County jail in Saegertown, where they have been held since their arrests May 24, 2012.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.