Bellows-Shaffer trial set for Aug. 6
TOWANDA - The criminal homicide trial of Emily Ruth Bellows-Shaffer has been set for Aug. 6 at the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda, following a failed motion by the public defender earlier this year to dismiss murder in the first, second, and third degrees and aggravated assault.
According to county district attorney Dan Barrett, jury selection will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 6. The trial had been scheduled for Monday, but was postponed due to the defense not being ready yet.
Bellows-Shaffer, 55, with a listed address of Crystal River, Fla., was charged with criminal homicide in the 2010 death of Carol Hickok, in Canton Township.
According to the court papers filed at the office of Magisterial District Judge Jonathan Wilcox in Troy, Bellows-Shaffer was charged with criminal homicide in the death of Hickok, whose husband, Roger Hickok, had a son with Bellows-Shaffer.
Court papers indicated that Bellows-Shaffer attempted to make Carol Hickok's death appear accidental.
The incident occurred at the Hickok residence around 6 a.m. Sept. 15, 2010 at 197 Mountain View Rd. in Canton Township.
Carol Hickok, who was 65 years old, was found face down at the base of an exterior set of stairs. State police at Towanda said Bellows-Shaffer was also charged with burglary, criminal trespass and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.
In a previous omnibus pretrial motion, county chief public defender Helen A. Stolinas requested dismissal of the charges of first-, second-, and third-degree murder and aggravated assault. She argued that "the evidence does not establish any of the counts of murder," noting that the autopsy report provided to the defense classifies the cause of death as undetermined.
In addition, she said "the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing did not establish a premeditated, deliberate killing for purposes of first-degree murder." She said there was "no evidence that a weapon or other means likely to cause (Carol Hickok's) death was employed."
Also, Stolinas said that the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing did not establish second-degree, or felony murder based on a charge of burglary.
"Burglary requires both an unlawful entry into the home and an intent to commit a crime once inside," she said. "There is no evidence of any intent to commit a crime at the time of (Bellows-Shaffer's) original entry into (Carol Hickok's) home."
She continued, "in fact, the evidence presented established (Bellows-Shaffer's) reason for entering the home was to see her minor son who was living there. At the time of (Bellows-Shaffer's) second entry into the home, the evidence establishes that (Carol Hickok) was already deceased and the information alleges that (Bellows-Shaffer's) intent at that time was to tamper with physical evidence."
Stolinas said that "the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing did not establish third-degree murder, as the element of malice was not proved," and "there was no evidence that (Bellows-Shaffer) was acting with malice, or that she disregarded an unjustified and extremely high risk that her actions could cause death or serious bodily harm."
"The Commonwealth has not made out a prima facie case on the charge of aggravated assault, which requires that serious bodily injury be caused intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life," she said. "The evidence does not establish the required mens rea for the offense." Mens rea is defined by Collins Dictionary of Law as "'guilty mind,' the term used to describe the mental element required to constitute a crime."
In an order, Beirne denied the motion. She wrote that "there was sufficient evidence to present a prima facie case of first degree murder considering, among other evidence, (Bellows-Shaffer's) relationship with (Carol Hickok's) husband, her diary entries, (Bellows-Shaffer's) actions of entering the home in the early morning hours without permission, knowing (Carol Hickok's) husband was not home, her remaining in the home, the multiple injuries to (Carol Hickok), the attempt to hide the occurrence, denying that she was at the residence." Beirne wrote that "the multiple injuries are prima facie evidence of malice."
She continued, "there was sufficient evidence presented to indicate that (Bellows-Shaffer) was not authorized to enter the home and intended to remain there and/or see her son in violation of a 2006 custody order. Thus, a prima facie case of felony murder was presented." Beirne wrote that "there was sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of murder in the third degree as malice may be found by the type of injuries suffered by (Carol Hickok)." And she wrote that "there is sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case of aggravated assault based upon, among other evidence, the injuries (Carol Hickok) suffered and the fact that (Bellows-Shaffer) remained in the home."
Also in the case, there are 62 pages of a diary that been filed at the county prothonotary's office.
This was presented at Bellows-Shaffer's preliminary hearing in Troy with the indication that it appeared to be Bellows-Shaffer's diary and was in her handwriting.
The diary's role, if any, in the upcoming trial remains unknown.
On one page, an entry reads: "77.5 months, 6 ½ years, MORE THAN HALF of HIS LIFE, You have kept my son from me."
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.