After spending hours going through thousands of pieces of microfilm in the Clerk of Courts Office, the Beaver Countian has found the misfiled transcripts from the homicide trial of Brian Samuel.
The Samuel case includes two of the five murder convictions in Beaver County expected to be revisited soon, as a result of a recent Supreme Court decision. In June, the high court ruled mandatory sentences of life without parole were unconstitutional in cases involving juvenile offenders.
Transcripts show the 1996 trial of a teenager accused of killing both of his parents with the help of classmates came to a screeching halt, after it was discovered Sheriff George David intentionally withheld vital evidence in the case from prosecutors. While David’s involvement in the trial was briefly reported on at the time, details of a dramatic hearing which took place inside of the judge’s chambers (including a debate about whether Sheriff David should be read his Miranda rights) have never before been disclosed in the media.
Brian Samuel was convicted of hiring two fellow classmates from the Aliquippa High School to kill his parents. He promised the self-confessed gunmen Peter Schoonover and Trazis Durham $12,000 to commit the murders (the pair were never paid).
The controversy involving Sheriff David centered around yet another student from Aliquippa, who would eventually prove to be the prosecution’s star witness. Just days after the murders, Jason Krotec told Sheriff David that he overheard Samuel, Schoonover, and Durham planning the killings while at school. He also said he was offered $3,000 to remain quiet about it.
Transcripts show that David kept the full extent of what he was told by Krotec to himself, leaving investigating officers and prosecutors in the dark for over a year.
Krotec’s testimony was eventually allowed into trial over the objections of defense attorneys — Criminal charges were never pursued against Sheriff David for withholding the evidence.
In The Judge’s Own Words
Following the conviction of Brian Samuel and his co-defendants, Judge Peter O. Steege issued an opinion denying a defense motion to reconsider his ruling that allowed Krotec’s testimony to be presented during trial. Here, Judge Steege describes Sheriff David’s withholding of vital evidence in the case:
“At the time of the Samuel killings, and at the time of the trial, George David was Sheriff of Beaver County […] Sheriff David was and remains a lifelong resident of Aliquippa, and he had served for many years as an Aliquippa police officer. During the noon hour on Monday, October 10, as she began to prepare Krotec for his now very important testimony, the District Attorney again inquired as to why Krotec had withheld the most important part of his testimony until earlier that week. Krotec then revealed that he had disclosed the entire story to Sheriff David on Monday, April 15, 1996, four days after the murders, the day on which these three defendants were arrested.
Sheriff David was a lifelong friend of the Krotec family. Krotec’s mother had telephoned David and told him that her son Jason had some information about the Samuel killings. David went to the Krotec home, and Krotec told Sheriff David virtually everything that he would later tell Detective Clements — and the jury.
Faced with this stunning revelation, Trooper Robert Becky, the chief prosecuting officer in the case, went to speak with Sheriff David. The Sheriff freely admitted that he had known all along what Krotec knew and that he, personally, had not revealed it to anyone connected with the prosecution or investigation of the case. He had mentioned Krotec’s name to Deputy Sheriff Daniel Short, who had been assigned to the case, but he did not tell Deputy Short what Krotec had told him. Deputy Short, knowing that Krotec had been interviewed, thought the matter had been covered. Clearly, it had not been.
In the presence of all defense counsel and the prosecution staff, including Trooper Becky, we interviewed Sheriff David. […] Sheriff David conceded that he had never told anyone connected with the investigation about his conversation with Krotec, both because there was personal animosity between him and the District Attorney and members of her staff, and because he was offended that he had been excluded from participation in the investigation of the case. We specifically asked him: “Did you ever reveal to Deputy Short or anyone in else in law enforcement the full details of Jason Krotec’s statement to you on April 15, 1996?” Sheriff David answered, “No Judge, I didn’t.”
Krotec’s testimony may well have been the most damaging evidence introduced against the defendants in the entire trial.”
Finding The Transcripts
The Beaver Countian first learned about the Brian Samuel case from a courthouse source at the end of April. An attempt to find transcripts in the Clerk of Courts Office was initially unsuccessful, after discovering the files were not in their designated docket location. The Beaver Countian subsequently spent hours sifting through thousands of pieces of microfilm in the office, before finally finding the misfiled transcripts.
After the Beaver Countian pulled the stack of microfilm from the drawer, Deputy Clerk Janet Caldarelli remarked “Oh, I see you found the Samuel case.”
Days later, the Beaver County Times published a letter to the editor from Janet Caldarelli which read in part “It is time to put an end to the endless persecution of Sheriff George David […] Why doesn’t the media focus on the positive instead of the negative, and let the man alone so he can do his job?”
In Chambers: Attorneys And Judge Debate Mirandizing Sheriff David [nggallery id=89]
In Chambers: David Testifies [nggallery id=90]
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, the Beaver Countian has released a statement regarding an incident involving Sheriff George David and this reporter.