february 20, 2014 (tribune-democrat)
Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday signed a death warrant ordering the execution of a man convicted nearly 25 years ago for the grisly murder of a 2-year old girl.
The execution of Stephen Rex Edmiston, now 55, has been ordered for April 16, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
Edmiston was convicted in 1989 by a Cambria County jury for the 1988 murder of Bobbi Jo Matthew.
Edmiston was living in Huntingdon County when he took the girl from the home of her grandmother, Nancy Dotts, in Beccaria, Clearfield County, during the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 1988.
The child’s body was found two days later in a remote area of Reade Township in northeastern Cambria County.
Edmiston maintained his innocence at his trial. But state police testified that he drew a map with an X marking the location where, he said, “You’ll find a dead, raped little girl.”
Police found the girl’s body at the location and Edmiston allegedly admitted to raping her in his truck, then hitting her three or four times until she became quiet.
An autopsy showed Bobbi Jo was partially scalped, had blunt force injuries to her torso and a skull fracture. Her body was burned and her genital area obliterated, according to trial testimony.
Edmiston, who has been housed at SCI-Greene for several years, has been involved in the appeals process for more than two decades.
Cambria County attorneys David Kaltenbaugh and Kenneth Sottile defended Edmiston at his trial, but the appeal process was assumed several years ago by Robert Dunham of the Federal Defenders Office in Philadelphia.
Dunham could not be immediately reached for comment late Thursday.
Kaltenbaugh said he had lost track of where Edmiston was in the appeal process, but said of death row inmates: “They never really exhaust their appeals.”
Executions in Pennsylvania are carried out by lethal injection, but it is highly unlikely that the execution will be carried out this spring.
The last time anyone was executed in Pennsylvania was in 1999, when Gary Heidnik of Philadelphia was executed, said Joshua Maus, of the Governor’s Office of General Counsel.
That execution occurred only after Heidnik voluntarily give up his appeal process so he could be put to death.
The Edmiston execution warrant was the 31st signed by Corbett, Maus said.
Trial testimony and information provided by the governor’s office was that Bobbi Jo went to bed in the home she shared with her grandmother and her father, Harold Matthew, on the night she was abducted.
Around 3:30 a.m., Harold Matthew, who was sleeping on a sofa in the home, was awakened by a man with a beard, the father later told authorities.
The man was wearing a baseball cap and apologized to Harold Matthew for waking him, according to trial testimony.
At some point, Edmiston went into a bedroom shared by three children, including Bobbi Jo, and removed her from the home.
Edmiston was said to be the nephew of the boyfriend of Dotts, the child’s grandmother, who discovered her missing when she came home at 5:30 a.m.
Edmiston is the last Cambria County inmate on death row. The death sentence for Larry Christie, convicted in the murder of a night watchman at the Oriential Ball Room in Gallitzin was reduced to life in prison after it became apparent the courts would rule in his favor of his appeal.
Ernest “Ernie,” Simmons, convicted in the 1990s murder of Anna Knaze, had his status changed when an appeals court ordered a new trial and prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to third-degree murder.
Simmons was expected to be given credit for time served, and released, but is now back in prison on a parole violation.
Late last year the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the Simmons appeal regarding the parole violation.