Residents of 1313 New Street Testify on Day Three of Kennedy Murder Trial
FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – On a day that saw a number of witnesses testify for the prosecution in the murder trial of Richard Kennedy of Vandergrift, Pa., and a juror dismissed for unknown reasons, the most compelling testimony came in the morning.
That is when William Umstead and Mark Daniels – the residents of the house at 1313 New Street where the alleged murder of Tausha Baker of Franklin started – testified.
The duo gave nearly identical testimony on many of the key points of what they saw when they awoke on the morning of October 27, 2017, the day the alleged crime occurred, although there was perhaps one key discrepancy in their testimony.
Both testified to coming downstairs in the house and finding the kitchen area a mess with the refrigerator moved, a window air conditioning unit no longer in its place in the window, and a lot of blood splattered everywhere.
But, the potential key difference was the location where they found a frying pan/skillet that prosecutors allege Kennedy used to beat – but possibly not murder – Baker with.
Umstead said the frying pan was located in the sink and had a dent in it.
“Mark (Daniels) said, ‘Look at the skillet,’” Umstead said. “It had a dent in it.”
Venango County District Attorney Shawn White then showed Umstead a skillet with a dent in the bottom of it and asked if it was the same skillet and if the dent had been in it the last time he saw it.
After acknowledging it was the same skillet, Umstead said, “It was absolutely not like that before.”
Umstead then said he declared the skillet was not good anymore and threw it towards the garbage outside, but it didn’t make it all the way.
On cross-examination by defense attorney Robert Kinnear, Umstead said he didn’t see any blood on the skillet.
White then asked him if the sink was in working order, if the faucet worked, and if the water was capable of running, and Umstead said “yes” in each case.
Daniels, when questioned, said the skillet was on the stove when he came down but confirmed the dent was in it and the dent was new.
“I observed the skillet on the stove with a dent,” Daniels said.
Kinnear asked Daniels if the skillet was in the sink.
“No,” Daniels said.
Kinnear then asked if Daniels had observed any blood on the skillet, and he said “no.”
Then, on prodding from Kinnear, Daniels said Umstead seemed scared.
“He said it was eerie,” Daniels said.
UMSTEAD, DANIELS SET SCENE THE MORNING OF ALLEGED MURDER
Testimony from both Umstead and Daniels set the scene for what they found on the first floor of 1313 New Street when they awoke on the morning of October 27, 2017.
Umstead said he got up to go to the bathroom and heard voices downstairs and started to head downstairs before Kennedy met him about three steps down.
“He said to go back up, you won’t like this,” explained Umstead.
Umstead testified that Kennedy had a white towel around his face and one of his hand was wrapped.
“I thought he was cooking meth,” Umstead said.
After returning upstairs, Umstead said he started to worry because he knew cooking meth could lead to an explosion. At that point, he made up a story.
“I told him you have to get out – my brother is on his way,” Umstead said. “(Kennedy) said to give him 20 minutes, but I said he was coming right away.”
Umstead then said he saw Amanda Cypher, Kennedy’s girlfriend (who is also accused in the crime but who is scheduled to be tried separately), by a vehicle he described as tan (he said he is colorblind and can’t see certain colors including red – the color the prosecution alleges the car to be) and soon after saw the car pull away.
At that point, he went downstairs and walked into the kitchen.
“The refrigerator was pulled out a little, and the garbage was spilled,” Umstead said. “I woke Mark up to ask him what happened. I noticed the air conditioner was taken out of the window, and there were small dots. I asked Mark if that was blood, and he said ‘yes.’”
Daniels said he saw blood on the door jam to the kitchen.
“It was like a handprint,” Daniels said.
Daniels also testified that there was a lot of blood by the utility closet.
“There was blood on the door and ground,” Daniels said. “It looked like someone tried to clean it up.”
Daniels went on to testify that Umstead showed him clothes in the washing machine, but that neither he nor Umstead had done any wash.
Later, after Umstead returned from going to a local bar, he said the two noticed more blood in the laundry room area on what he described to be either a blanket or a rug. He said there was “lots of blood” on it.
“It was scary,” Daniels said when asked to describe what lots of blood meant.
In afternoon testimony, Pennsylvania State Police corporal John Mihalik confirmed a lot of what Umstead and Daniels testified to.
Mihalik, who has worked approximately 14 homicides in a career that ironically came to an end with his retirement on Friday, was called in the night of October 27, 2017, to process the crime scene.
He said he took photos of the interior and exterior of the house, taking 123 photos.
“We want an overall picture of what we are looking at,” said Mihalik, who said he arrived at the New Street house at 10:50 p.m.
Of the 123 photos, 61 were shown to the jury with many of them backing up the scene portrayed by Ulmstead and Daniels.
There were “specks” of blood on the door and floors in and around the kitchen and utility room, according to Mihalik, as well as on some clothing in the utility room (which is where the washing machine was located).
DANIELS GIVES POTENTIAL MOTIVE
During his testimony, Daniels revealed a potential motive for the crime.
“They (Kennedy and Amanda Cypher) were mad because (Baker) gave them meth instead of crack,” said Daniels about Kennedy and Cypher coming back to 1313 New Street on the afternoon of October 27, 2017.
Earlier in his testimony, Daniels had said that a man that lived in the basement of Doug Baker’s house (Doug was Tausha’s father, and Tausha was also living at the house at the time of her death) had come by the house on 1313 New Street but hadn’t entered.
“I saw an SUV with a guy who lived in Doug’s basement (Daniels, when questioned, couldn’t recall the man’s name) show up at the door,” Daniels said. “But he didn’t come in. He ran (when he saw Kennedy) and got in the car and drove off. Amanda (Cypher) was like, ‘what was that all about.’ I had heard her on the phone trying to find drugs. She was asking for crack. She made a couple of phone calls. I recall her saying Tausha’s name.”
Before Daniels testified, Kinnear, in cross-examination of Umstead, asked Umstead if he had ever purchased any drugs from Baker.
“I purchased crack from Tausha,” Umstead said. “Maybe once or twice.”
DETAILS FROM THE NIGHT BEFORE
Umstead and Daniels testified about the night before the alleged murder.
Both men testified that they had engaged in an argument with Umstead, accusing Daniels of drinking the last of Umstead’s vodka, although Daniels said the fight, which both said consisted of yelling but no physical altercation, was just Bill being Bill.
Umstead said after the fight, he went up to his room, and Kennedy came up.
“He asked what the problem was and if I wanted him to take care of it,” Umstead said. “I said ‘no.’ He said ‘I can take care of it.’ And, I said ‘No, it’s alright.’ He asked if I was sure, and I told him it was because we are friends.”
Umstead testified that Kennedy had metal or brass knuckles that he showed him.
A bit later, Umstead said Daniels came up to his room and said that Kennedy told him Umstead wanted to see him.
Daniels testified, “I went upstairs and Kennedy followed me. When I got up there, Bill said he hadn’t asked me to come and then he told Kennedy ‘Don’t you dare hit him.’ (Kennedy) was behind me with brass knuckles.”
Daniels said after he went to bed in the early morning hours of October 27, 2017, he heard yelling or moans coming from downstairs but thought it was Cypher and Kennedy having a fight.
“It wasn’t blood curling or anything like that,” Daniels said.
DETAILS OF BAKER’S BODY BEING FOUND
Afternoon testimony included details of Baker’s body being found in a dumping area off Waterworks Road.
Tom Sherman, fire chief for Polk VFD, said that a call came in of smoke in the area of Waterworks Road at 5:08 and 13 seconds on October 27, 2017.
“Our brush truck was the first on the scene at 5:25 p.m., and I was on the scene in our engine at 5:33 p.m.,” Sherman testified.
Sherman said when he arrived at the scene, there were four other firefighters already there, and the first was mostly extinguished.
“When I arrived, I discovered there was a deceased individual at the bottom of the hill,” Sherman said.
Sherman said he was informed of the dead body by Polk Deputy Chief Paul Adams.
Adams testified that he had arrived on the scene in his personal vehicle because of his location to Waterworks Road when the call came in.
“The brush truck was already there when I got there,” Adams said. “There were three other firefighters there and a small fire over the hill. I grabbed some tools and headed over the hill.”
Adams described the area of Waterworks Road where the fire was at as on the “S” bend with a steep drop off of maybe 20 or 30 feet with a pretty steep grade.
“The fire was small in nature,” Adams said. “As we were putting the fire out, I moved some rubbish and discovered a body. I called Assistant Chief Larson down, and he verified it was a body. We then got all of our stuff out of there and secured the scene.”
On cross-examination by defense attorney James Miller, Adams said the fire was on the right side of the road.
James Miller asked if the fire could have been smoldering a long time.
“It could have been, but I can’t say how long it would take (for smoke to build up),” Adams said. “It could have been burning five minutes or an hour depending on the material burning.”
White, the DA, then followed up and asked if an accelerant had been used – White is alleging that Kennedy set Baker’s body on fire – if that would shorten the time it took for the fire to start.
“Yes,” Adams said.
The questions about the time it took for the first to start and be noticed were brought up because of testimony right before Sherman’s by Robert Miller – no relation to James Miller – who testified that he saw a man matching Kennedy’s description – in the location of the “S” curve on Waterworks Road at approximately 4:30 p.m. or 4:40 p.m. on October 27, 2017.
“My wife and I left to go eat and do some shopping,” Miller said. “We headed toward Franklin in a 2017 Orange Toyota Tacoma. We left the house around 4:30 p.m.”
Miller testified that as he and his wife – he was driving – approached the “S” bend on Waterworks Road, he saw an SUV, which he said he believed to be green.
“There was a man in the back and a woman on the side,” Miller said. “The man was black with a sports cap on and dreadlocks with a medium build (Kennedy had and still has dreadlocks). The woman had brown hair and was a little heavyset with her arms folded. The man was reaching or grabbing some bags.”
James Miller, the defense attorney, asked Robert Miller, why in his written statement to police at 12:13 a.m. October 28, 2017, he said the man had “long hair” but during testimony, Friday said that it was “dreadlocks.”
“I didn’t think the police would know what I was talking about,” replied Robert Miller.
Robert Miller also testified upon questioning from James Miller that he was probably going about 20 MPH at the time because of the “S” bend.
“The SUV was parked on the passenger side,” Robert Miller said.
James Miller asked Robert Miller how, if the SUV was parked on the passenger side and the “S” bend was turning away from where the SUV was parked, he knew so many details of the SUV and the people by it.
“We have a problem with dumping in that area,” said Robert Miller, who lives on Waterworks Road. “That’s exactly what I thought I saw.”
DEFENSE TRIES TO SOW DOUBT
The questioning of Robert Miller and Adams was a pattern of the defense attorney’s possibly trying to sow some doubt in the jurors’ minds about what the witnesses saw vs. what actually happened.
In questioning, Robert Miller, James Miller asked about a white pickup truck that Robert Miller said on Friday passed him and his wife before they left their house.
“In your statement to police, you said you saw the white pickup just before passing the SUV,” James Miller said.
Earlier, during Umstead’s and Daniels’ testimony, Kinnear tried a similar tact.
Kinnear asked Umstead if he could tell how many voices he heard before trying to go downstairs when Kennedy stopped him.
“I couldn’t tell how many voices or if they were male or female,” Umstead said.
Kinnear also asked if it was possible that Kennedy and Cypher had been drinking.
“Yes, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t have shared with them,” Umstead said.
Kinnear also asked Umstead if he remembered smoking crack with Kennedy and Cypher.
“I don’t remember smoking crack,” Umstead said.
Kinnear then said that at the November 13, 2017 preliminary hearing Umstead had testified that there was no crack being smoked.
“Was that a lie,” Kinnear asked.
“No,” Umstead said.
“The jury is just supposed to believe that you said one thing in November 2017 and now are saying you can’t recall,” Kinnear countered.
“No, I don’t think I smoked crack,” Umstead retorted.
On cross-examination of Daniels, Kinnear asked if Daniels had given drug paraphernalia to Cypher, and Daniels said “no.”
Kinnear then said that on page 66 of the preliminary hearing, Daniels said he gave some to Cypher.
“Was your memory better then or now?” Kinnear asked Daniels.
“Closer (to when it happened),” Daniels answered. “I am trying to recall the best I can.”
During cross-examination of Mihalik, the state police trooper, James Miller asked about a cell phone that White had shown to Mihalik that Mihalik said he had collected as evidence.
“The (evidence) bag the cell phone was open, not closed like the other (evidence bags),” Miller said. “Is that normally how you get evidence bags back?”
Mihalik, who said the evidence had been given over the Franklin City police and not handled by the state police, said, “they are typically sealed from our crime lab.”
Miller also questioned Mihalik as to where the cell phone came from.
“I can’t remember how I came about it,” Mihalick said. “It was not at the crime scene. It wasn’t at the house or it would have been on the evidence log.”
Miller asked Mihalik if it wasn’t procedure to document where all evidence came from.
Miller then questioned Mihalik as to why he didn’t take samples from every speck of blood splatter.
“You are saying you don’t know where each drop was collected,” Miller said. “You have no way of knowing if it one, two or three people. You can only determine from the people you took. You don’t know if others were there.”
White asked Mihalik what the science behind swabbing blood is.
“You take it from the most concentrated areas,” Mihalik said. “You would be there all day. You go to the center of the area and take the swab.”
After a brief discussion with the judge by both attorneys around 3:30 p.m., the jury was escorted out of the room and then shortly after was escorted back into the courtroom. At that point, everyone in the gallery, including the media, was asked to leave.
A short time later, a juror – No. 8 – was seen leaving the jury room and heading out of the courthouse. When the gallery was reopened, one of the alternates was in that juror’s seat. The trial then resumed with no announcement of a juror having been removed.
The makeup of the jury didn’t change, as a male juror was replaced with another male juror keeping the jury at six men and six women. There are now three alternates left, including two men.
The trial resumes at 9:00 a.m. Saturday.
Copyright © 2019 EYT Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of the contents of this service without the express written consent of EYT Media Group, Inc. is expressly prohibited.