More than five years after someone brutally murdered Rachael DelTondo in her parents’ Aliquippa driveway, Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier is admitting his investigation has been at a standstill.
Lozier announced in an interview with BeaverCountian.com he is now formally naming Sheldon Jeter Jr. of Aliquippa as his office’s prime and only suspect in DelTondo’s May 13, 2018 murder, but said he does not have the evidence he needs to arrest the man. He is pleading with the community for help.
Jeter’s attorney is expressing outrage at Lozier’s public announcement. And his challenger in this year’s race for district attorney is accusing him of engaging in potential prosecutorial misconduct for political purposes.
Lozier told BeaverCountian.com his office has spent the past five years trying to build a case against Jeter, now 25, based on circumstantial evidence gathered by investigators, but the puzzle of DelTondo’s murder remains unsolved. DelTondo, 33, was shot multiple times at 10:45 that Mother’s Day night, after being out for ice cream with a teenage friend and Jeter’s older brother. Two years prior, Aliquippa police found DelTondo and Jeter parked in a steamed-up car and speculated the two had a romantic relationship.
“We have explored every possible forensic lead with the help of just about every three-letter federal agency, but we haven’t been able to place Jeter in Rachael’s driveway yet, we’re missing that final piece,” Lozier said.
Attorney Michael Santicola has been representing Jeter since before DelTondo’s murder, which Jeter has denied any involvement. He told BeaverCountian.com he believes Lozier is missing far more than a little piece.
“I think this is much to do about nothing, that’s what I think,” Santicola said of Lozier’s decision to formally name Jeter.
“Let’s talk about what you don’t have, Mr. Lozier. You don’t have a murder weapon. You don’t have any eyewitnesses. You don’t have forensics placing Jeter or anyone else at the scene. You have no evidence that this was a crime of passion like you keep claiming. Now after five years, you’re going to announce that you have a suspect?”
Santicola added, “How early in this investigation did everyone hear the name Sheldon Jeter Jr. coming out of the district attorney’s mouth? None of this is new from our perspective.”
Santicola also noted that Lozier’s announcement comes just more than two months before his name will appear on a ballot for reelection in a highly contested race. Lozier, a two-term incumbent Republican, is facing off against Democrat and Beaver attorney Nathan Bible.
“Hopefully there is no political component to this, because that would be inappropriate,” Santicola said. “The timing could be coincidental, or not.”
Lozier said he is publicly naming Jeter as the suspect in DelTondo’s murder to help bring closure to her family, and in hopes that members of the public may have information that could be useful to the half-decade-long investigation.
Bible told BeaverCountian.com he sees no explanation for Lozier’s sudden announcement other than politics.
“There is no coincidence in the timing of this,” Bible said. “I think he’s concerned with getting reelected and this is his Hail Mary attempt to curry some public favor in a case that’s been a thorn in his side since his investigation fell apart early on. It made national news and he’s no closer to an arrest than he was five years ago, despite what he says.”
Lozier’s office already has a complicated relationship with Jeter. Although his office succeeded in convincing a jury to convict Jeter in 2021 of first-degree murder for the May 2020 shooting death of his close friend Tyric Pugh, 30, a state appeals court later overturned a county judge’s decision in an evidentiary matter and ordered a pending hearing in the case.
Lawyers for Jeter, who is serving a life sentence in the Pugh case, claim potential juror misconduct, alleging a juror had been DelTondo’s neighbor and was possibly biased. They also allege that other jurors may have heard spectators discussing DelTondo during the trial.
Bible believes Lozier’s naming of Jeter as a suspect in DelTondo’s murder while lacking the evidence to arrest and convict him could amount to a violation of rules of professional conduct that govern attorney ethics.
“As an attorney, my first reaction was Lozier’s opening himself up to a civil lawsuit from Jeter,” Bible said. “You have the chief prosecutor saying, ‘I know it was him, I just don’t have the evidence.’ I think he’s now made it impossible to ever have a fair trial for Jeter in Beaver County even if they do come up with enough evidence.”
Bible continued, “The chief prosecutor should be Mr. Ethics in the county. The rules prohibit prosecutors from making statements outside of court that could have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of an accused person. Going on national news stating – this is our guy but we can’t prove it – I don’t know how the public wouldn’t look at that as a condemning statement from a prosecutor. The voters of Beaver County are smart enough to see right through this.”
Lozier said he is continuing his work on the DelTondo case, and that his office will be announcing a monetary reward in the coming weeks in hopes of generating new leads.
Santicola scoffed at the prospect of a financial incentive being injected into the investigation after so many years.
“They have interviewed everybody they possibly could and they still don’t have any charges – now they’re looking for a phantom witness,” Santicola said. “Is somebody going to change their statement because there’s going to be a reward? I’m going to question the credibility of that kind of person automatically.”
Lozier said the public will get more insight into the evidence his investigators have collected against Jeter on Sept. 11, when he will allow judicial orders sealing search warrants in the case to expire. Prosecutors have previously sought regular renewals of those orders to keep the filings shielded from public view.
Bible told BeaverCountian.com that if he is elected as district attorney in November, the DelTondo case would be among the first he wants to review.
“I would be inheriting a giant mess, and it’s been a giant mess from the beginning,” Bible said. “My biggest fear is this has been so botched that this family may never get closure as to what happened to their daughter. I don’t think Lozier throwing out wild accusations without evidence is providing the family with any closure … I would have every intention of doing everything I can to find Rachael’s killer … I just hope that is still a possibility because of all the damage Lozier has already done.”
See Also: Timeline: The Murder Of Rachael DelTondo
BeaverCountian.com contributing editor Lori Boone contributed to this report.