Court denies motion to suppress evidence in East Finley murder case
Frank Russell Jones Jr.
A Washington County judge on Thursday denied a suppression motion filed by the attorney for an East Finley Township man accused of murdering an 80-year-old widow in her home.The pretrial motion sought to suppress all evidence stemming from a traffic stop in January by South Strabane Township police that eventually led to the arrest of 23-year-old Frank Russell Jones Jr. Jones is charged with criminal homicide and five other offenses in the Jan. 7 slaying of Opal Bedillion, who lived alone in her rural home on Templeton Run Road in East Finley. The district attorney’s office is seeking the death penalty.According to state police, Jones went to Bedillion’s home looking for drug money and slit her throat as she opened her door after he claimed to need assistance.After leaving Bedillion’s residence, police said Jones drove to the home of Brandon Howard, 22, who was not charged in connection with the homicide, in South Strabane Township. The men were stopped later that evening and questioned by police after they were observed acting suspiciously while parked in a nearby church parking lot.During the pretrial hearing Thursday, Deputy Defense Attorney Thomas Cooke argued that the traffic stop and subsequent searches amounted to arrest without probable cause. He questioned whether the “furtive movements” reportedly observed by police were enough to warrant a search of Jones’ car.First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas said police never impeded Jones’ path of travel and had the right to question the men. He supported the claim by citing a 2006 Superior Court case with similar circumstances.President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca, who presided over the hearing, agreed with the prosecution and denied the motion. Earlier in the hearing, several law enforcement officers took the stand. South Strabane Township police Officer Ryan Hoffman testified that he noticed Jones’ vehicle parked alone in the church lot, shined a spotlight on it and observed the men inside moving in a manner that suggested they were hiding objects. Hoffman testified the vehicle then traveled toward him and pulled alongside his patrol car, leading to a brief exchange in which Jones claimed he stopped in the parking lot to urinate. While asking Jones for his license and registration, Hoffman said he noticed several items inside the vehicle that raised red flags, including a jewelry box partially covered by a jacket on the rear floor.South Strabane Township police Sgt. Mike Manfredi testified that he questioned Jones outside the vehicle after being called in to assist Hoffman. He said Jones, who appeared nervous, initially claimed the jewelry was given to him by his mother. However, when Manfredi went to call Jones’ mother, he said Jones blurted out that a man named Tyler had given him the jewelry. Jones then reportedly told Manfredi that he believed the jewelry to be stolen and completed a written statement to that effect. Police also obtained Jones’ written consent to search the car.Police frisked both men and discovered several Vicodin pills in Howard’s pocket. Howard, who told police he and Jones were headed to Giant Eagle that evening to purchase baby diapers, still faces charges of possession of a controlled substance, hindering apprehension by providing false information to law enforcement and receiving stolen property. The officers also found a brooch with the words “Opal and Harry” on it and a prescription bottle of hydrocodone with Bedillion’s information, which led police to ask a relative to check on the woman. At the time, police had received no reports of an incident taking place at Bedillion’s residence.After the woman’s body was found by a family member, Jones was taken in custody near his East Finley home and transported to the state police barracks. State police Trooper John Marshall testified Thursday that Jones told police he wanted to do the right thing and gave an audiotaped statement admitting to the murder.Jones’ trial is scheduled to begin in January.