Supreme Court rejects request
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected a request for additional DNA testing from Stephen Rex Edmiston, convicted of the 1998 murder and torture of a 2-year-old girl in Cambria County, suggesting his latest petition was only an effort to stall his execution.
Edmiston, now 52, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the murder of Bobbi Jo Matthew, who was kidnapped from her Gulich Township, Clearfield County, home on the night of Oct. 4, 1988.
Edmiston from Petersburg not only gave police a map that led them to the youngster’s body, but when asked by police what they would find, he replied, “a dead raped little girl.”
While Edmiston might have cooperated with police to some extent during the investigation of the child’s disappearance, he has in recent years declared his innocence and asked that his death sentence and conviction be tossed out because the prosecution did not provide his defense attorney with 87 black and white photographs and color slides taken by the coroner during an autopsy.
The defense also challenged testimony by a prosecution expert witness who said blonde hairs found in Edmiston’s truck matched those of the young victim.
In 2009, Edmiston requested additional DNA tests of blood found in his truck.
Six sitting members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week rejected Edmiston’s claims for DNA testing, pointing out that prior to his trial, there was some DNA testing, including a defense report that stated the blood in the truck was from Bobbi Jo Matthew.
DNA testing has become more sophisticated in the past 25 years, but in the majority opinion written by Justice Max Baer, the court unanimously found Edmiston’s request untimely.
It was not until after his second post-conviction petition that he sought new DNA tests, according to the state’s highest court.
“[Edmiston] has known of the existence of the physical evidence he now seeks to test since his trial over 20 years ago,” the court stated.
It said he has been represented by an attorney “who knew the statute, the technology, and the evidence and who were vigorously pursuing post-conviction relief on his behalf. … Under such circumstances, courts should exercise a healthy skepticism when faced with requests for DNA testing,” the majority opinion said.
The judges said, “It cannot reasonably be concluded that his DNA testing motion was made in a timely manner and for the purpose of demonstrating [his] actual innocence and not to delay the execution of sentence or administration of justice.”
Justice Debra McCloskey Todd in a concurring opinion said she did not agree that the challenge to the hair evidence was untimely, noting that skepticism as to the testimony of the prosecution’s hair expert came only recently after a review of forensic evidence techniques in 2009 by the National Academy of Sciences.
Edmiston also contended that the photographs that were not given to his attorney would show the child was mutilated by a vehicle that ran over her and not because of rape and torture, as the prosecution claimed.
Rape and torture of the child served as aggravating circumstances used by the jury to impose the death penalty.
The Supreme Court accepted the lower court ruling that the photographs in question were mentioned repeatedly during the pretrial and trial proceedings and concluded it was once again “untimely” to bring them up as an issue 24 years after trial.
A point made in the majority opinion as well as by Justice Todd in her concurring opinion was the evidence against Edmiston was plentiful.
He confessed to rape and murder of the child when police had not yet found the victim’s body. He drew a map and said they would find a dead, raped little girl. He admitted covering her body with branches, Todd wrote.
There was blood in his truck, which he said came from a cut on his arm but that contention “was rebutted by prison officials who admitted [Edmiston] to prison and noted no significant cuts on his body,” the court stated.
“Given this evidence, it is not surprising [Edmiston] declined DNA testing at the time of trial … a decision to seek further testing, of course, could have sealed [Edmiston’s] fate,” said the majority.
The Edmiston case will now go to the governor’s office, where a death warrant could be prepared.
But it is unlikely he will face execution any time soon because in 2005 Edmiston’s attorney asked for a federal review of his case.
U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown stayed the federal appeal on Nov. 1, 2005, pending the outcome of the state appeal.
Edmiston is being represented by Robert D. Dunham of the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. Dunham was not available for comment Friday.
The prosecution is represented by the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Nobody from that office was available for comment Friday.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.