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3 say suspect admitted killing 2 college students

Defense trying to show co-defendant fired fatal shots

Friday, August 25, 2000

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- His shirt stained with what appeared to be blood, a keyed-up Terrell Yarbrough told buddies who admired the sport-utility vehicle he was driving that he'd robbed and killed two college students to get it, two of his acquaintances testified.

  After being asked one question by the prosecution,Terrell Yarbrough invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination. (V.W.H. Campbell Jr., Post-Gazette)

A convicted murderer also testified yesterday that Yarbrough, in jailhouse conversations, admitted that he shot the students but planned to implicate his friend and co-defendant, Nathan "Boo" Herring, as the gunman.

"[Yarbrough] did tell me he was trying to come up with some kind of alibi, that he was going to say that Boo put the gun to [the students'] heads," said James Jones, formerly of Mingo Junction, Ohio, who's now serving a life sentence for fatally stabbing his wife in June 1999.

Jones, who was arrested the same week as Yarbrough, testified that while they were jailed together in Steubenville, Yarbrough admitted shooting Franciscan University students Aaron Land and Brian Muha.

Jones was one of several witnesses called by defense attorneys in a 90-minute attempt to show that Yarbrough -- not Herring -- fired the fatal shots. Their testimony came on the fourth day of Herring's trial on kidnapping, murder and other charges in the May 31, 1999, slayings of Land and Muha.

Herring, 19, of Steubenville, and Yarbrough, 21, of East Liberty, are charged with abducting Land and Muha from their Steubenville apartment, driving them into Pennsylvania in the stolen Blazer and fatally shooting them on a rural Washington County hillside.

Land, 20, of Philadelphia, and Muha, 18, of Westerville, Ohio, were in Steubenville to attend summer classes at Franciscan University. Their bodies were found June 4, 1999, under a thicket of wild roses off Route 22 in Robinson, Washington County.

  Brandon Young, 18, of Springfield, Ohio, testified that Yarbrough confided that he'd killed "two white boys" to get a vehicle. (V.W.H. Campbell Jr, Post-Gazette)

Jefferson County, Ohio, prosecuting attorney Stephen M. Stern plans to seek the death penalty against Herring and Yarbrough. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up their cases yesterday; jurors will begin deliberating today.

David Doughten, one of Herring's attorneys, told the jury in his opening statement that he would not dispute facts and witnesses presented by prosecutors to prove that Herring was with Yarbrough on the night the students died.

But Doughten called Jones and two other men to contradict statements Yarbrough gave to police in which he blamed Herring for planning the kidnappings and shooting the students.

Jones testified that Yarbrough told him in jail that he decided to rob Land and Muha because he wanted to steal the black Chevrolet Blazer that Muha was driving. He said Yarbrough also told him that he forced the students to perform sex acts -- a detail that, at that time, had not been reported in the media.

Brandon Young, 18, formerly of Steubenville, also testified that he encountered Yarbrough driving the Blazer near his home on the day the students were killed. Yarbrough invited him to ride in the Blazer and confided that he'd killed "two white boys" to get the vehicle, Young said.

"They got their heads shot off," Young said Yarbrough told him. Young testified that he also saw Herring later that night and that Herring told him that Yarbrough shot the students.

Young, now of Springfield, Ohio, also denied being present during the kidnappings and slayings. In statements to police that were played earlier in the trial, Yarbrough also implicated Young, but police later cleared Young of involvement.

Shawn Dudley of Steubenville testified that he chatted with Yarbrough and Herring that day at a Steubenville car wash and both men told him that Yarbrough had killed two men while stealing the Blazer. Dudley said he believed what he'd heard because he saw a smear of what appeared to be blood on Yarbrough's shirt.

"[Yarbrough] was hyper," and he drove away in the Blazer after saying he had to change his soiled clothes, Dudley said.

Chief deputy prosecuting attorney Christopher Becker, however, downplayed the testimony on Herring's behalf by prompting Young and Dudley to admit that they were longtime friends of Herring but just casually acquainted with Yarbrough.

While cross-examining Jones, Becker also noted that Jones had reason to dislike Yarbrough because the two had been involved in a fight in jail.

Under Ohio law, a person who abets a homicide is considered to be as guilty as the person who pulls the trigger.

Yarbrough, who is to stand trial next month, also briefly took the stand yesterday, accompanied by his attorney, Peter Olivito. His appearance set off a ripple of expectation among spectators in the packed courtroom, who were unsure about the nature of his testimony,

In his first and only question, Doughten asked Yarbrough if Herring had anything to do with the deaths of Land and Muha. Yarbrough briefly conferred with his attorney, then in a brief and garbled statement invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

"On the advice of my accountant, I invoke my Fifth Commitment rights," Yarbrough said, eliciting a wince from his attorney.

Also yesterday, FBI forensic examiner Julie A. Kidd testified that she used DNA analysis to identify Herring as the source of blood drops found in the stolen Blazer.

Other blood spots found in the Blazer likely came from Land, Kidd testified, although she said her results could not be conclusive because she'd had to compare the spots with disintegrating DNA in tissues from the victims' decomposed bodies.

Kidd also said she'd found blood spots that could have come from Muha on socks Yarbrough wore that day and more blood that could have come from Land on Yarbrough's sweatpants. No blood was found on the clothes Herring was wearing that day, Kidd said.

FBI fingerprint analyst Quintus Ferguson also testified that Herring left six fingerprints on the Blazer doors. Another of Herring's prints was found on an ATM receipt from Muha's account that was found in another car that Herring and Yarbrough are accused of stealing from a Squirrel Hill woman.

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