Meadville Tribune

Local News

November 14, 2013

Why death penalty wasn't on table in Barber trial

MEADVILLE — Editor’s note: This story may be too graphic for some readers.

Though 19-year-old Brandy Stevens died after she was brutally beaten, choked and waterboarded by Ashley Barber and Jade Olmstead, Crawford County District Attorney Francis Schultz said facts in the case didn’t support seeking the death penalty under Pennsylvania law.

Olmstead, 20, and Barber, 20, each pleaded guilty in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas to first-degree murder in connection with Stevens’ May 17, 2012, death.

Olmstead pleaded guilty Oct. 31 and Barber pleaded guilty Thursday. Each woman was sentenced to a mandatory life prison term without parole by Judge Mark Stevens. Judge Stevens is not related to the victim.

Under Pennsylvania law, a prosecutor only may seek the death penalty in a case of alleged first-degree murder if at least one of 18 aggravating circumstances is present.

Schultz said the only circumstance that may have applied was torture, but the facts didn’t support it even though Stevens was hit by both Barber and Olmstead, bludgeoned in the head several times with a shovel, choked with a rope, hit in the head with a boulder and had water poured down her throat before Stevens was buried in a shallow grave while she was still alive.

Schultz announced his decision not to seek the death penalty Aug. 24, 2012, after consideration of the law and the facts in the case and consultations with Pennsylvania State Police and the Stevens family.

“Just because something is horrific doesn’t make it a death penalty case,” Schultz said following Thursday’s guilty plea by Barber and her subsequent sentencing to life in prison.

“We would have to prove it was the intent of the actors to inflict substantial and unnecessary pain on the victim,” Schultz said. “In this case, they were simply ineffective in attempting to kill her. ... That’s why it took longer (to cause Stevens’ death).”

The age of the two women and their gender were factors as well.

“Based on my experience, I didn’t believe a jury would give them the death penalty — being female, being that young and the fact that I didn’t think I could prove they had the intent to torture,” Schultz said.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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