Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Trial opens in 2 slayings

Defendant got in with 'wrong people'

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press Writer

        STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — A man accused of beating and fatally shooting two Franciscan University students is a good person who got involved with the wrong crowd, his attorney and mother said Monday. A prosecutor told jurors Terrell Yarbrough is a killer who bragged about the crime.

        “Terrell Yarbrough's urge to tell his friends about what he did to the two university boys was uncontrollable,” Jefferson County Prosecutor Stephen Stern said during opening statements.

        Mr. Stern said statements Mr. Yarbrough made to police, acquaintances and friends, as well as bullets, fingerprints and blood-spattered clothing link him to the crime.

        Mr. Yarbrough, 19, of Pittsburgh, is charged in the 1999 deaths of Brian Muha, 18, of Westerville, and Mr. Muha's roommate, Aaron Land, 20, of Philadelphia.

        Mr. Yarbrough could be sentenced to death if convicted of aggravated murder in Common Pleas Court. He has pleaded innocent.

        Defense attorney Peter Olivito told jurors his client is a “decent human being.”

        “He's not very educated. He's not very sophisticated. He's not very well-cared for,” Mr. Olivito said. “He hooked up with a Steubenville crowd that did some things most people wouldn't.”

        Prosecutors say Mr. Muha and Mr. Land were kidnapped from their house on May 31, 1999, and driven to into woods, and shot with a .44-caliber gun.

        “He broke into the house, pistol-whipped the two young men out of their sleep, took them to Pennsylvania and executed them on a hillside,” Mr. Stern said, pointing to Mr. Yarbrough, who held his head in his hands and quietly wept.

        Three of Mr. Yarbrough's relatives, who also cried, and nearly a dozen friends were in court. They waved to Mr. Yarbrough and told him they loved him. Wearing a pinstriped suit and shackles, Mr. Yarbrough said nothing, turned and smiled at his mother.

        “He's a peaceful child. He wouldn't hurt anybody,” Leona Yarbrough said of her son. “Those crimes are just not possible. He's really not like the way they say. He's just in with the wrong people.”

        Mr. Yarbrough also has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, gross sexual imposition, receiving stolen property and grand theft auto.

        He is the second man to go on trial in the case.

        Nathan Herring, 19, was sentenced last month to life in prison without parole after being convicted of aggravated murder and other charges.


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