by Jonathan Weaver
A former Templeton man might spend life in jail without parole after being convicted of murder and escaping from the Armstrong County Jail July 30, 2015.
After three days of testimony during his trial, Robert Crissman, Jr. was found guilty by 12 jurors – six men and six women – of first- and second-degree murder and other felony charges, including escape, robbery and receiving stolen property.
Crissman sat motionless during the ruling at about 6:20PM in the Armstrong County Courthouse – as he had for most of the trial. Jurors deliberated for less than two hours.
Jury Foreman David Jackson, of Parker, said the white T-shirt found with Tammy Long’s blood stains after Crissman struck her with a toilet tank lid and strangled her with a shoelace for at least four to six minutes left no doubt in the jury’s mind of Crissman’s guilt. He was convinced Crissman should spend life behind bars.
“From what the evidence shows, yes. I agree that what (Crissman) did was a terrible act and that he should be put in jail for the rest of his life,” Jackson said. “After discussing everything, (jurors) all came to a unanimous decision that he was guilty.
“There was no other way anybody else could have done it. He was linked to the crime through blood.”
Jackson said jurors could not determine a motive for the killing – which forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht estimated during his testimony Wednesday occurred between 6:30 and 8:30AM the morning of Crissman’s escape.
“We came to the conclusion that (Crissman) went (to Long and Terry Slagle’s house) to get a ride, and after Terry Slagle left, something happened within those 40 minutes that caused him to snap,” Jackson said.
Slagle left the residence for work about 7:20AM, leaving Long and Crissman alone in the house. Jurors also found Crissman guilty of stealing Slagle’s burgundy truck and rifle.
Crissman’s public defender, Chuck Pascal, said he was disappointed with the jury’s verdict and surprised the decision came relatively quickly.
“The question was ‘Did (Crissman) commit the murder, and if he did, what was the degree?’ We don’t believe it was first-degree murder; we don’t believe it was planned,” Pascal said.
Jurors called President Judge Kenneth Valasek back into the courtroom after about an hour of deliberation to clarify the definitions of first, second and third-degree murder, as well as to ask if Crissman could be convicted with two different degrees of murder.
District Attorney Scott Andreassi was confident a verdict would come shortly following the question.
District Attorney Andreassi said he and Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Charlton expected the opposing counsel’s approach.
“The defense was exactly as we expected it would be and we had prepared for,” Andreassi said.
That included Pascal’s own expert witness, Guardian Forensic Services’ Serologist Katherine Cross – who testified that after reviewing reports and photographs, more evidence found in the Long residence could have been tested for DNA or that chemicals could have been used to locate blood invisible to the naked eye.
However, on cross examination, Cross said she found no fault with the State Police crime labs’ accreditation nor their conclusions.
“I did not see a need for me to physically see the evidence,” Cross said.
Andreassi explained the Commonwealth’s approach during the past three days.
“Our goal was to literally take the jury from the time Bob Crissman escaped from the Armstrong County Jail until he was apprehended, and explain to them everything that happened in-between,” Andreassi said. “We designed it to be a step-by-step process.
“We prepared our case exactly the way we had designed it and presented it exactly the way we wanted to.”
During the approximately four hours of testimony Thursday, attorneys, jurors and family members heard from two Pennsylvania State Police troopers, Cross and three of Crissman’s family members.
Criminal Investigative Assessment Officer Trooper Chris Birckbichler heard emergency radio traffic about Crissman’s escape early that Thursday morning and traveled from the Troop D headquarters in Butler to search for Crissman, both on land and in the air with infrared.
Trooper Birckbichler was the first on-scene of Long’s residence, explained to prosecutors and the defense attorneys why he and Forensic Scientist and Serologist Sarah Kinneer prioritized 10 crime scene items for DNA, blood and fingerprint analysis.
He also explained Slagle – Long’s boyfriend – was cleared as a suspect during police interviews due to his demeanor, saying Slagle was “extremely agitated and upset.”
“He kept saying, ‘He killed her – he killed her,’” Trooper Birckbichler testified.
Public Defender Preston Younkins questioned three of Crissman’s family members – his grandmother, younger sister and uncle – about Crissman’s reputation, and all three testified Crissman was not a violent person.
“He is not a violent – he’s a very gentle person,” his grandmother said. “Always has been since he was a little kid.”
After discussions with his counsel, Crissman chose not to testify.
Andreassi said the most he has heard Crissman talk was when President Judge Kenneth Valasek asked Crissman regarding that decision.
Pascal did not regret any of the decisions he made during the three-day trial.
“As far as I’m concerned, we made the best argument we could with the evidence we have and the facts that we had,” Pascal said.
The conviction came less than six hours before Crissman’s 39th birthday.
Prison Board President and County Sheriff Bill Rupert reminded media members that sirens, updated policies and procedures and a new phone emergency alert system have already been put in place to upgrade security around the Rayburn Township jail.
In addition to county deputies and K-9’s, five probation officers, four State Police troopers, a handful of Kittanning Borough Police and East Franklin Township Police officers secured the courthouse during Crissman’s transport back to jail
Long’s birthday would have been this Saturday.
Judge Valasek predicted sentencing could occur at the end of this month.
ABOVE: This surveillance video outside the Armstrong County Jail July 30, 2015 shows Crissman walking away from the facility about 6:27AM.