Woman’s case moves to trial
HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Blair County judge has found there is enough evidence to take Brenda Shultz of Frankstown Township to trial for allegedly making a straw purchase of a handgun used by her boyfriend, Jeffrey Lee Michael, in a shooting spree that killed three area residents last December.
Judge Elizabeth Doyle also ruled that two statements about the gun purchase made by Shultz, 52, to state police investigators were voluntary and can be used against her during trial.
Defense attorney Lucas Kelleher challenged the Pennsylvania laws under which Shultz has been charged, and Doyle decided to leave that question undecided on Thursday after a three-hour pretrial hearing in her Hollidaysburg courtroom.
Kelleher is contending the laws against straw purchases are “vague and overboard.”
Doyle told Kelleher and Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio to file legal briefs on the constitutionality issue.
Shultz, in 2011, allegedly bought two handguns at Campbell’s Sporting Goods Store in Hollidaysburg on Michael’s behalf.
Police said she told them that one of the guns, a Glock, was paid for by Michael, but Michael told her it was to be her gun.
The other gun she purchased, a .45-caliber Taurus, was to be his gun, and it turned out to be a weapon he used last Dec. 21, when he went on an early morning shooting spree, killing a neighbor, Kenneth Lynn, 60, Lynn’s son-in-law, William H. “Bill” Rhodes Jr., 38, and a woman who was decorating a nearby church along Juniata Valley Road, Kimberly Scott, 58.
Michael’s shooting spree didn’t come to an end until he was killed during a shootout with three state police troopers.
Three officers were also wounded.
Trooper Kenneth Benton of the Hollidaysburg Barracks was one the officers who responded to the area, and one of his assignments was to secure the three homicide scenes and search for other victims.
One of the first places he went was to the residence where Michael was living with Shultz, just two homes away from the Lynn residence, to determine if Michael had done harm to Lynn or her family.
He said he met Shultz’s son there, and he had no idea there were any problems. The son put Benton in contact with Shultz at her workplace in Williamsburg.
She had not been harmed, she said, and she knew nothing about the killings, but she reported that the night before, Michael “was ranting and raving about religion, the end of the world, gun control and Obama.”
By the time she left for work on Dec. 21, she said Michael appeared to have calmed down.
Benton told her to return to her home, but because the area was blocked off, she said Thursday, another officer told her to go to the state police barracks.
It was there that she gave a statement to Trooper Michael Eppolito, and during that interview she talked about purhasing the guns for Michael.
She thought at the time Michael was asking her to buy the guns because he had a protection-from-abuse order against him by a former wife.
Criminal Investigator David J. Aiello and another trooper on Dec. 27 followed up the initial interview by visiting Shultz at her home and confirming her purchase of the guns.
Aiello objected to Kelleher’s description of that visit as an interrogation, stating it was an interview to try to find out the truth. Under questioning, he said he told Shultz she did not have to talk to police but said he did not read her the Miranda rights.
Consiglio pointed out that Shultz signed state and federal gun purchase forms for the Taurus in which she checked “yes” when answering if she were “the actual buyer” of the gun.
Aiello said what she did was make a “straw purchase” of the gun – buying a gun for Michael “to circumvent the law.”
Kelleher on cross examination of the officer made several points. Michael in fact was not under a PFA when Shultz bought the gun, he said.
The defense attorney pointed out that there are exceptions to the prohibition to buying a gun for another person. A gun can be purchased as a gift for a family member including a spouse, parent or grandparent.
Kelleher also noted the law doesn’t define the term “actual buyer.”
Shultz took the stand briefly and said that she voluntarily went to the state police barracks the day of the shooting and that she agreed to talk to police on Dec. 27.
But, her complaint was that “there are things written down on paper I did not say.”
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.