Category: Armstrong County Court House

Crissman Convicted of Criminal Homicide, Jail Escape

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, talks to the media Thursday evening shortly after he and 11 other jurors found Robert Crissman guilty of murder, escaping from the Armstrong County Jail July 30 and other felony offenses.

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.

District Attorney Scott Andreassi said he and Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Charlton were prepared for the defense during the trial. Prosecutors structured the case with the intent for Crissman to be convicted of a life sentence.

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.

Forensic Experts Testify in Crissman Murder Trial

by Jonathan Weaver

A trio of forensic experts detailed the alleged ways Robert Crissman killed Tammy Long July 30 and the items where their DNA and fingerprint evidence was found.

World-renowned Forensic Pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht first took the stand about 10AM yesterday morning in the Armstrong County Courthouse to explain what he found during Long’s autopsy at Carlow University in Pittsburgh Friday, July 31.

Wecht collected hair samples and noted both internal and external injuries during his review, noting Long suffered more than a half-dozen injuries including bruises, lacerations and an indent around her neck where Crissman allegedly tied a shoelace.

“She died due to asphyxiation due to strangulation,” Wecht testified. “(The shoe string) was tied tightly around her neck.”

While a blunt force trauma to Long’s head did not cause Long’s death and might not have caused her to lose consciousness, Wecht testified that the profuse amount of blood loss led to her brain losing oxygen. Investigators allege that a toilet tank lid caused the irregular, jagged laceration.

In his medical opinion, Long died between 6:30AM and 8:30AM the morning Crissman arrived at Long and Terry Slagle’s Rayburn Township house.

Forensic Scientist and Serologist Sarah Kinneer analyzed 10 pieces of evidence at the accredited Pennsylvania State Police regional crime lab in Greensburg – including the toilet tank lid, three-inch shoe string and a white Pittsburgh Steelers T-shirt Crissman was allegedly wearing).

Forensic experts testified in Robert Crissman’s murder trial yesterday regarding the laboratory procedures they undertook to determine DNA on a white T-shirt found by police investigators. Blood stains were tested and a square was also cut from the back of the collar to determine DNA. It was matched to the accused.

Kinneer found blood spatter on the lower front of the t-shirt and also cut out a square from the t-shirts neckline to determine who wore the t-shirt. The t-shirt was found under a bed at Long’s residence

The shoe string was also stained in what was presumed to be Long’s blood.

“There was blood all over the shoe string,” Kinneer testified.

The evidence was then forwarded to Forensic Scientist Timothy Gavel, an expert in DNA analysis that also works at the State police crime lab in Greensburg.

Gavel testified evidence collected on a toilet tank lid, blue bed sheet and blood stains all matched Tammy Long.

The T-shirt sample Kinneer cut also matched to Crissman.

In his report filed December 18, 2015, Gavel testified all DNA found traced to Long and Crissman could not have been from more than a nonillion other individuals. Nonillion has 30 zeros, while Earth’s population in billions has nine zeros.

Some touch DNA evidence could not be compared to other individuals screened – such as Slagle or Crissman’s Armstrong County Jail cellmate on the morning of his escape.

Crime lab officials testified no latent finger prints could come from the toilet tank lid.

State Police Trooper Roger Hess, stationed at Troop D headquarters in Butler, took photographs of several more items both at the crime scenes and at the police barracks. He was identifying them all – such as Crissman’s wallet and fishing license, a hairbrush and shaving cream bag and a silver purse found on Long’s bed – before the end of testimony yesterday.

Dozens of items have been entered into evidence by Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi and Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Charlton and were tagged by Prothonotary/Clerk of Courts Brenda George. Those items include black high-top tennis shoes, a Magnum rifle and more than a dozen photographs.

Although evidence was taken by police investigators from the home, nothing was submitted from a truck Crissman allegedly stole or Slagle’s gun safe where a 22-inch Magnum rifle was allegedly taken.

Wecht was requested by Armstrong County Coroner Brian Myers and was accompanied by Deputy Coroner Robert Bower and two Pennsylvania State Police troopers.

Lead Investigator Trooper Terry Geibel, of the Pennsylvania State Police, Kittanning barracks, assisted Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi during Day Two of Crissman’s jury trial.

While more testimony is to be heard starting this morning, County President Judge Kenneth Valasek told the dozen jurors testimony might conclude today and that Judge Valasek might ask them to convene to consider Crissman’s felony charges this evening.