WILKES-BARRE – Having been cleared to remain on the case, defense attorneys in the William Rohland homicide trial are expected to begin presenting evidence this morning, with the case possibly going to the jury by the end of the day.
The case was in danger of ending in a mistrial after Rohland’s public defenders on Monday sought to withdraw from the case, citing a conflict of interest with a prosecution witness who had previously been represented by the public defender’s office. The matter turned into a non-issue, however, after the witness, Mary Butera, agreed to waive her right to attorney/client privilege.
Prosecutors are seeking a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty. If Rohland is convicted of first degree murder, jurors would reconvene to hear evidence in a separate death penalty hearing.
Struggling to maintain her composure, Butera, Rohland’s sister, testified Tuesday about a phone conversation she had with Rohland at around 1:30 a.m. Aug. 16 – roughly six hours after police say he shot and killed Kelli Fasulka, 39, and Joey Hernandez, 23, at Fasulka’s Avoca home following a drug deal that went awry.
Her voice cracking with emotion, Butera, 45, testified she had seen news reports that police were looking for Rohland and asked him to turn himself in. She said he declined, telling her that he was “going to take myself out.” He also asked her to give her son, with whom Rohland had a close relationship, a message:
“He said, ‘Tell Peter I love him, and no matter what they say, I’m a good guy,’ ” Butera said.
Questioned by William Ruzzo, one of Rohland’s attorneys, Butera said Rohland never admitted killing anyone.
Rohland was taken into custody about three hours after speaking with Butera. Police found him at a tavern he owned in Duryea. Several law-enforcement and ambulance personnel testified Rohland was bleeding profusely, having slit his wrists in a suicide attempt. Rohland recovered and was transferred to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
State police Cpl. Gerald Williams, one of the officers investigating the case, testified he spoke with Rohland at the prison on Aug. 17. Williams said Rohland questioned him about whether police had found the shotgun – which at that point had not been located -- and about how much jail time he was facing, but did not admit to the killings.
“He said ‘I don’t want to turn this into a circus. I have several requests. If my requests are met I’ll tell you where the shotgun is and give you a detailed statement of what happened,’ ” Williams testified.
Williams said Rohland’s requests included seeing a prison psychiatrist and being allowed to take a shower. He also asked for some pending charges against his girlfriend to be dropped.
Rohland apparently never gave that statement. The shotgun was located on Aug. 21 after a woman looking for a lost dog spotted it lying on a railroad embankment near Railroad Street in Duryea.
Ruzzo questioned Williams if he ever determined if Rohland had actual knowledge of the shotgun’s location, inferring Rohland may have been offering information he did not have in attempt to gain a favor.
“For all you know Mr. Rohland could have been conning you,” Ruzzo said.
“I can’t say that. If that was his intent, I don’t know,” Williams replied.
Prosecutors also presented 11 other witnesses, most of whom were law-enforcement officers or laboratory technicians who testified about the results of tests performed on various pieces of forensic evidence.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Melnick said he expects to call one more witness today. The defense will likely begin presenting its case by mid-morning.
Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. advised jurors that testimony might conclude by late afternoon or early evening. If that occurs, they would be sent out to deliberate.
For updates on the trial Wednesday, check www.timesleader.com.
The defense is expected to begin presenting evidence on Wednesday.