Former Blair resident plans duress defense

Stahl accused of abusing young son in 2012

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A former Blair County woman charged in December 2014 of abusing her young son may go to trial this year and use her diagnosed mental health conditions as a defense.

Elizabeth Ann Stahl, 31, who now lives in Mississippi, contends that, at the time of the alleged offenses in 2012, she was a victim of years of physical and emotional abuse directed at her and her children by a paramour.

State police at Hollidays­burg charged Stahl with aggravated assault, simple assault, endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person after an investigation into the child’s condition discovered by Altoona police in late 2012.

At that time, Stahl was living in the Juniata section of Altoona where police officers were assigned to check into a child abuse allegation. At Stahl’s residence, police found a 3-year-old boy who appeared to be malnourished, with sunken eyes, a frail body and bruises. The boy, along with two girls who appeared to be healthy, were placed in the custody of Blair County Children, Youth & Families.

Because the alleged offenses may have occurred in Altoona and in Tyrone where the family previously lived, state police at Hollidaysburg took over the investigation and, in December 2014, charged Stahl, who remained free on unsecured bail.

In 2015, 2016 and 2017, county court documents show Stahl’s case repeatedly delayed while surfacing for reviews. One of the delays allowed time for completion of a psychological evaluation that seems to be developing into the basis of Stahl’s forthcoming defense.

In a recent notice to the court, defense attorney Matthew Dombrosky advised that he wants to use a duress defense by presenting psychologist R. William Tallichet of Allentown, who can testify about Stahl’s mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and how those conditions would have influenced her actions.

In Pennsylvania, duress is a defense to criminal charges if a jury concludes that the defendant was coerced into committing a criminal act by the use of force or the threat of force.

That type of defense also requires a jury to consider what “an objectively reasonable person” would do in the same situation and if there were alternatives.

Tallichet can testify as to Stahl’s conditions, but not his conclusions, Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks argued to Judge Wade Kagarise during a pretrial hearing this week in preparation for an October trial. The conclusions about Stahl’s actions are part of the fact-finding role that belongs to the jury, Weeks said.

But Tallichet should be able to testify about his knowledge of Stahl and her conditions because it goes beyond what a lay person would typically know, Dombrosky said.

Kagarise said he intends to review Tallichet’s eight-page report on Stahl that he elected to seal while his ruling is pending. The judge also set mid-August deadlines for Dombrosky and Weeks to provide further arguments as to their positions.

Jury selection is scheduled Sept. 17 for what would be a three-day trial in October, Kagarise said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.