Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Allentown Massacres

Forensic Proof

While that trial was going on, Steinberg offered Ben a plea of murder one, with the death penalty off the table. Ben refused it, maintaining that he was innocent. Then on July 24, David's lawyers claimed that David Freeman had been suffering from mental infirmity at the time of the crime and they were prepared to offer an insanity plea. In addition, the public defenders for both brothers filed papers regarding Steinberg's failure to keep to the terms of the plea deal. They stated that when he offered a confession, Bryan had relied on the Michigan authorities to do things properly. In addition, David's attorneys insisted that the death penalty for a 15-year-old was cruel and unusual punishment (and in 2005, the Supreme Court agreed). They also stated that David had been under the influence of narcotics when he'd confessed.

But then something happened to shift the case Steinberg's way. Birdwell had claimed that he went along with that the Freeman brothers were doing in order to save his own life, because he was afraid that Bryan might kill him. But the brothers had contradicted him, and on July 27, the Pennsylvania State Crime Lab announced a finding that supported the brothers' version of events. The blood spatter found on a T-shirt that Birdwell had worn that night that was a match to Dennis Freeman. The original story that Birdwell had told was clearly false. He had to have been in the room when Dennis was under attack, and standing close enough for blood to hit him. So much for his tale about hiding in the basement.

Steinberg grabbed this important bit of evidence and commended the scientists. He then charged Birdwell with three counts of first-degree murder. Along with Coroner Mihalakis' belief that three weapons involved implicated three separate killers, he pieced together a scenario that made sense, based on the weapons and blood evidence: Bryan had stabbed his mother, while David and Ben had gone together to kill Dennis and Eric. He also believed that Ben had slammed Brenda with the same pickax handle that had been used on Erik: it bore traces of blood from both. While Erik's blood was not found on anyone's clothing, a hair consistent with his was picked off a jersey that Bryan had worn that night. In any event, there was good reason to believe that Birdwell, one of the "three musketeers," had been every bit as involved in this triple homicide as the two brothers — and had possibly had a hand in all three. The judge told Birdwell that he could face the death penalty. He did not react.

Although Makoul quickly countered that being present in the room where Dennis was being killed, it did not prove that Birdwell had acted. Or it showed that he might have been trying to stop the murder of Dennis Freeman. But Birdwell's obvious lies did not help matters for the defense; had he been trying to help the victims, he'd have said so. Steinberg announced that he intended to convict the boys separately, because he could use the statements each had given against any of the others.


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