BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN
TOWANDA – Steven Colegrove was found guilty Wednesday of three counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of his parents and one of his brothers in their home in Tuscarora Township.
"Three people are dead, and that's a tragedy," said Bradford County District Attorney Daniel Barrett, who also paid tribute to the police and others who worked on the case. "There were a great many contributors to bringing this case before the jury."
Barrett said he will seek the death penalty for Colegrove, who lived most recently in Deposit, N.Y.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated nearly 6-1/2 hours before rendering its verdict.
The jury also found the 32-year-old Colegrove guilty of three counts of third-degree murder and not guilty of three counts of second-degree murder.
On Friday, the jury will begin the penalty phase, where it will decide whether Colegrove will receive the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The penalty phase is expected to take two days, Bradford County Court Judge Maureen Beirne said.
During the penalty phase, the Commonwealth will present evidence of different aggravating circumstances, and the defense will present evidence of mitigating circumstances.
The victims – Joseph Colegrove, 60; Marlene Colegrove, 56; and Michael Colegrove, 36 – were found dead in their home on Aug. 8, 2007. All three died from shotgun wounds to the head, according to the Bradford County Coroner's Office.
Joseph Colegrove was a barber in Laceyville, and his barbershop was a social gathering place for the community, Laceyville residents have said.
He had 42 years' experience with the Good Will Fire Company in Laceyville, including 13 as chief.
Marlene Colegrove was a bus driver with the Wyalusing Area School District, and was active in the ladies' auxiliary of the fire company.
Michael Colegrove had a heart condition and lived with his parents, and he had served as a volunteer in two local elementary schools.
"They were the hub of this community," Melissa Fisher, president of the ladies' auxiliary of the fire company, said the day after the Colegroves' bodies were discovered.
In his closing argument to the jury on Wednesday, Barrett said there was "rock solid" evidence linking the homicides to a Mossberg shotgun that was confiscated from a vehicle in Steven Colegrove's driveway in Deposit.
DNA analysis showed that Michael Colegrove's blood was found on the gun, according to a state police forensics expert. And another state police forensics expert testified that, based on his analysis of markings on the gun and on the six spent shotgun shell casings found at the crime scene, those shell casings had been fired in that particular Mossberg shotgun.
The Commonwealth presented testimony that Colegrove didn't get along with his family, that he had thrown out some of his clothing hours after the homicides had occurred, and that a bruise had formed on his right shoulder in the same location where a bruise can form from the recoil action of a shotgun.
Defense attorneys tried to plant doubt in the jurors' minds by attacking the main points of the Commonwealth's case.
For example, the defense argued that the expert witness who had said the shotgun shells matched the Mossberg shotgun was only stating his subjective opinion, and that there have been challenges to the method that police use to link shotgun shells to shotguns.
And the defense also presented testimony that the family members with whom the victims had problems in the year or two before their deaths were Robert Colegrove and his wife Heather, and not Steven Colegrove. Robert Colegrove, who lives in Camptown, is Steven Colegrove's brother.
State Trooper James Kerrick paid tribute to Beirne's handling of the trial, as it was only the second jury trial that she had presided over.
"I thought the Colegrove criminal trial was handled very well by Judge Maureen Beirne," Kerrick said. "She is very well versed in the law and courtroom procedures, and this being a complex murder case, she proved that she is experienced and qualified to be long-standing judge of Bradford County."
Beirne began serving as a judge in October.