A Beaver County Judge has declared a mistrial in the capital murder trial for two step-brothers accused of the April 2012 death of Daniel Santia from Hopewell Township. The mistrial came after Beaver County President Judge John McBridge determined that a detective in the case had provided false testimony during the trial.
The trial for Joseph Michael Arlott and Beau William Chermer began on Tuesday after a week-long jury selection process in the case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the two men, who they say tortured eighty-two year old Daniel Joseph Santia of Hopewell Township during a robbery. Santia died three weeks following the attack.
President Judge John D. McBride declared the mistrial early this morning in response to motions made by defense attorneys in the case. The controversy surrounds testimony given by Detective Robert Chamberlain yesterday. Chamberlain testified about a long series of photographs he said he had taken of the victim approximately two weeks following the attack.
Chamberlain’s testimony about exactly when the photos were taken became uncertain during cross examination, after it became clear that the victim in the case had already been released from the hospital on the date provided by the detective. Detective Chamberlain said he had not written a report about photographing the victim.
Defense Attorneys had raised an objection during Detective Chamberlain’s testimony yesterday, telling the judge at sidebar that the photographs should not be admitted because of uncertainty surrounding the date they were taken. Judge McBride overruled that objection, and allowed the photographs to be entered into evidence.
But early this morning, Assistant District Attorney Frank Martocci notified Judge McBride that Chamberlain had not actually taken the photographs, and the detective’s testimony about the evidence was mistaken. The photographs of the victim had actually been taken by Hopewell Township Detective Greg Durkos, and they had been taken the day after the assault, not two weeks later.
“My biggest concern was that the jury thought Mr. Santia was still in that bad of a condition two weeks later,” said Assisistant Public Defender Kevin Kindred, who is representing Joseph Arlott. “His hands were still swollen in those photographs and from the medical reports that we have, Mr. Santia had recovered from all of his injuries by two weeks after the attack.”
Following an autopsy by Dr. James Smith, Beaver County Coroner Teri Tatalovich-Rossi determined Santia died of blunt force trauma to the head and ruled his death a homicide. A report issued by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who was hired as an expert by the defense, determined that Santia died of a heart attack not head trauma, and that his death was not a result of injuries he received during the robbery. Neither witnesses were called to testify before today’s mistrial was declared.
Multiple courthouse sources, including one within the District Attorney’s Office, have told the Beaver Countian that Detective Durkos had notified prosecutors about Chamberlain’s mistaken testimony while he was still on the stand yesterday, but the line of questioning by Assistant District Attorney Frank Martocci continued unabated.
Judge McBride ultimately declared a mistrial in the case, describing Detective Chamberlain’s testimony as “fabricated” when speaking with attorneys in chambers.
It is unclear if Detective Chamberlain had taken any other photographs of the victim which he confused with the ones presented in court. Based on motions filed before trial, it does not appear any other photographs were provided to the defense as part of the discovery process.
“I do not believe that the testimony was fabricated,” District Attorney Anthony Berosh told the Beaver Countian. Berosh declined to talk specifically about Detective Chamberlain’s testimony. “I can tell you this, my office is ready to retry this case, and that is what we are going to do.”
“This is a death penalty case,” said defense attorney Gerald Benyo, who represents Beau Chermer, after being told of District Attorney Berosh’s reaction. “Any conviction obtained by the prosecution must be free of any doubt, and the defense team is prepared to continue to defend this case vigorously.”
The case has been tentatively scheduled to be retried in March.