By MARISSA DECHANT – Staff writer
One of the co-defendants accused of killing a Franklin woman in October appeared in court Friday to oppose a motion by District Attorney Shawn White for an extension to file three aggravated circumstances in addition to his original charges.
Richard Kennedy, 29, of Vandergrift, came before Venango County President Judge Oliver J. Lobaugh for the hour-long hearing.
Kennedy, along with Amanda Cypher, 33, of Franklin, are accused of killing 25-year-old Tausha Baker, of Franklin. Her body was discovered severely burned in a fire on Waterworks Road on Oct. 27.
The three filings follow a police interview with Cypher on Dec. 22, in addition to the prosecution receiving several crime lab reports between December and March and Baker’s autopsy report on March 29.
White said the new evidence, not present at the Nov. 13 preliminary hearing, would show that Kennedy and Cypher tortured Baker and kidnapped her from a residence at 1313 New St. in Franklin before taking her to Waterworks Road where she was finally killed.
Previously, police had believed Baker was beaten to death at the New Street home.
In Cypher’s interview with Franklin police in December, she said the murder stemmed from a drug transaction gone wrong – Baker had apparently agreed to provide $200 worth of drugs to Cypher and Kennedy but failed to do so, said White.
Cypher went on to say that Baker was beaten and bound at the house before being driven to Waterworks Road where Kennedy stabbed her with a sharp object and hit her in the head with a rock.
Defense counsel Robert Kinnear argued that enough evidence of the drug transaction and torture were present at the preliminary hearing that charges could have been filed then.
“Instead the Commonwealth chose to wait 104 days to file the circumstances, and that due diligence is not going to be there,” said Kinnear.
White first called Venango County coroner Christina Rugh to testify to the details of the autopsy report, which she received Jan. 19.
Rugh cited Baker’s cause of death as multiple sharp force injury wounds and blunt force trauma to the head. Baker’s injuries involved 19 sharp force injury wounds to the head and neck, 10 blunt force trauma wounds to the head, 11 sharp force injury wounds to the back and lower chest and three sharp force injury wounds to the extremities.
When asked why she did not send the autopsy report to the district attorney’s office until March 29, Rugh said it was an incident of oversight, in addition to being the sole employee in the coroner’s office.
On cross-examination, Rugh admitted to providing testimony at the preliminary hearing as to the cause of death and presence of stab wounds.
Rugh told White on re-direct that she did not know at the preliminary hearing how many injuries Baker had sustained, nor where she had suffered them.
White then called Franklin patrolman Kevin Saragian, the arresting officer on the case.
Saragian had interviewed Cypher on Dec. 22, and she had said Baker traveled to 1313 New St. home where Kennedy assaulted her with a frying pan and bound her ankles and wrists together.
Cypher stated that Baker was then escorted inside a vehicle, and Kennedy directed Cypher to drive to a wooded area. During the drive, Baker asked if the pair were going to let her go, whereupon Kennedy confirmed they would once they cleaned up Baker.
Cypher told police she drove to Waterworks Road, and Kennedy proceeded to stab Baker numerous times before retrieving a large rock and smashing her twice in the head. He then dragged her body over an embankment and set it on fire, Cypher had said.
Prior to Cypher’s interview, Saragian said that based upon the amount of blood and a tooth recovered from the New Street residence, police believed Baker to have been killed at the home.
At the conclusion of the interview with Cypher, she traveled to Waterworks Road with police and showed them numerous pieces of evidence, including the cable ties and rock used on Baker, Saragian said.
Clothing from all three individuals was recovered near Pioneer Cemetery at the intersection of 15th and Otter streets, said Saragian.
Saragian discussed several crime lab reports he received between December and March. A DNA report received Feb. 15 indicated that blood found at the scene matched that of Cypher and Kennedy’s, he said.
He said Cypher had initially stated after the murder that Baker had owed her and Kennedy money, but Cypher had not told police why.
Kinnear argued upon cross-examination that evidence was present at the preliminary hearing of the drug transaction, including testimony that one of the defendants placed a call at 1313 New St. to request drugs and both Baker and her father’s roommate were affiliated in the drug trade.
Saragian agreed that the testimony was presented, but no direct evidence of the transaction was known until the December interview with Cypher.
Kinnear also asked if any direct evidence thus far has pointed to kidnapping, to which Saragian answered no.
In closing, White said that both the long wait for DNA test results and Cypher’s police interview were the causes for the late filing of aggravated circumstances.
“It takes this long to get certain evidence on these complex matters,” said White.
Kinnear again stated evidence was present at the preliminary hearing and argued that defense counsel was not aware of the interview with Cypher until a pre-trial conference held April 5.
Lobaugh indicated a ruling on the matter will be made next week.
Cypher and Kennedy remain lodged in the Butler County jail. Bail has been denied.
Kennedy is charged with felony counts of criminal homicide, conspiracy – criminal homicide and two counts of aggravated assault. He is also charged with misdemeanor counts of abuse of corpse, tamper with/fabricate physical evidence, possession of instrument of crime with intent, possession of a weapon and make repairs/sell offensive weapon.
Cypher is charged with felony counts of criminal homicide, conspiracy – criminal homicide, hinder prosecution – conceal/destroy evidence and two counts of aggravated assault, in addition to misdemeanor counts of abuse of corpse and tamper with/fabricate physical evidence.