WAYNESBURG, Pa. -- A Greene County jury may today begin deliberating whether Jeffrey R. Martin should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison for raping and murdering a 12-year-old Greene County girl nearly two years ago.
Yesterday, after finding Mr. Martin guilty of sexually assaulting, strangling and burying Gabrielle Miranda Bechen on June 13, 2006, the jury of six men and six women began hearing testimony in the penalty phase of the case.
Returning to the stand today will be Maryland psychologist Marc J. Tabackman, a defense witness. Yesterday, arguing against putting Mr. Martin to death, he testified that mitigating factors include his dysfunctional family life and a traumatic brain injury from being hit by a car as a child. That injury, he said, left Mr. Martin with an IQ between 70 and 79, with 100 being average.
Furthermore, Dr. Tabackman testified, Mr. Martin said he had been molested several times as a child, and during his life had been alcohol dependent, depressed and suicidal.
District Attorney Marjorie Fox had only begun her cross-examination, during which she began to dispute some of those findings, when President Judge H. Terry Grimes recessed for the day.
Earlier during the penalty phase, Ms. Fox called to the stand Shannon Presock, a neighbor and cousin by marriage of "Gabby," as the victim was known. Ms. Fox told the jury she thought of also putting Gabby's parents, Chris and Mimi Bechen, on the stand, but noted their devastation at the loss of their daughter was well known because they had testified during the six-day trial.
Ms. Presock, at times so emotional that Judge Grimes kindly asked her to compose herself, said Gabby was "my cousin, my neighbor, my friend. She was a tomboy, but she was a princess."
She noted that Gabby loved all animals and everyone thought she would one day be a veterinarian, but "now we'll never know."
"She didn't deserve this. No one deserves this," she said, breaking down as other family members in the courtroom cried.
"I will miss the little things like opening my blinds and seeing Gabby making faces at me or fighting with the boys or chasing around with bugs.
"I think mostly I will miss her laughter and smile," she concluded.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Martin, a farmhand, showed no emotion when the court clerk read the verdict, reached during six hours of deliberations over two days. Not long thereafter, though, and for the rest of the day, he wore a scowl.
Gabby's mother and father held each other's hands tightly and, as each guilty verdict was recorded, the slightest smiles, absent throughout the trial, came over their faces. Dabbing tears, other family members reached to them in joy.
The jurors found Mr. Martin, 51, of New Geneva, Fayette County, guilty of first-degree murder, rape of a child, aggravated indecent assault of a child, statutory sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, abuse of a corpse and four counts of tampering with evidence.
The jury obviously rejected the testimony by Mr. Martin, his only defense witness, that the murder was committed by a mysterious man who ran out of gas near the farm where the defendant worked as a farmhand.
Conversely, they accepted Mr. Martin's taped confession to the crimes. He confessed nearly two years ago that he killed Gabby after she rode her small all-terrain vehicle from her home in Dunkard to the nearby 300-acre farm.
He told authorities he panicked and strangled Gabby after she threatened to tell her parents he had molested her, an allegation he claimed was false.
Her disappearance precipitated a large scale search of the rural area of Greene County by police and volunteers, two of whom found Gabby's buried ATV five days after she went missing. After confessing, Mr. Martin showed state police investigators where he buried her body, helmet and shoes in individual sites on the farm.
"I'm very happy with the verdict," said First Assistant District Attorney Linda Chambers, who tried the case, "but I couldn't have done it without these fine officers. They did a fantastic part."
As for Mr. Martin, when asked if he wanted to comment on the verdict, he curtly told reporters: "Go get it off someone else."