EBENSBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania man who had been granted a new trial in his wife’s 1991 slaying won’t be retried and instead was freed from prison Thursday after state prosecutors said they don’t believe they can prove their case 25 years later.
Kevin Siehl, 60, had been serving life in prison for the July 1991 slaying of his estranged wife, Christine Siehl. She was found stabbed to death in a bathtub with the shower still running in her Johnstown, Pennsylvania, apartment.
Senior Judge David Grine had previously granted a new trial, ruling Cambria County prosecutors were wrong not to disclose blood evidence that may have helped Siehl’s lawyers defend him at trial. But on Thursday Grine ordered that Siehl not be retried and immediately released from the State Correctional Institution-Huntingdon, where Siehl’s been since he was 36.
“We are happy that, today, the fight to win his freedom — a fight fought mostly by Mr. Siehl himself — is finally over,” public defender Lisa Freeland said in a written statement. She added that she’s happy Siehl is free from punishment for “a crime he did not commit.”
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office wouldn’t go that far, but did acknowledge not having enough evidence to retry Siehl for first-degree murder.
“The Commonwealth asserts that the evidence remaining, 25 years after the original prosecution against the defendant, is insufficient when measured against the Commonwealth’s burden of proof,” the state prosecutors wrote in their motion asking Grine to dismiss the charges and free Siehl.
The attorney general’s office handled the case because Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan had a conflict of interest. She was once a legal intern for a law firm that handled an earlier, unsuccessful appeal in the 1990s.
Grine, who is from Centre County, was appointed to handle the case because prosecutors and Siehl’s former defense attorneys were accused of wrongdoing in Siehl’s appeal, including two attorneys now sitting as Cambria County Common Pleas judges.
In Grine’s July ruling, he determined prosecutors wrongly withheld evidence from retesting of what appeared to be blood on the defendant’s shoes. The new tests showed the blood was Siehl’s, not his wife’s, as prosecutors contended, yet that evidence wasn’t turned over to Siehl’s lawyers.
Grine found the failure to disclose the evidence “so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place,” Grine wrote in July.
The judge also faulted the defense for failure to challenge evidence, including a bloody fingerprint used to tie Siehl to the crime scene. By not challenging the fingerprint the defense “effectively admitted that (Siehl) was the murderer,” Grine added.