The trial of a Lansford man, charged with killing his estranged wife and disposing of the body, began Tuesday in Carbon County court with District Attorney Gary F. Dobias calling it a "search for the truth. A search to find out what happened to Edwina Atieno Onyango."
Dobias said in his opening statement to the jury that the commonwealth will prove that Ernest Troy Freeby, 36, killed his wife in the basement of his Lansford home and disposed of the body. He said the trial is also the story of a "man without a conscience, a man who killed his wife and disposed of her body."
Dobias also said the trial is about the tireless effort and relentless pursuit of the truth by state police investigators as to what happened to Onyango, all with the help of modern day technology.
However, defense counsel attorney Paul Levy told the panel testimony will show that Onyango had disappeared on other occasions for periods of time and then reappeared. He also said the commonwealth has not produced any motive for the murder. He said testimony will show that Freeby was helping his wife in her attempts to remain in the United States and become a citizen.
He said the trial will also show that Onyango was a very private woman, who used several identities and Social Security numbers. He also said testimony will show that the marriage did not start out of one of convenience but Freeby cared for his wife and wanted to help her.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. The panel of 16 jurors, 12 regulars and four alternates, was picked during a lengthy session on Monday. The trial, according to President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II, will begin each day at 9 a.m. and continue until about 4-430 p.m.
Yesterday many relatives of Onyango were called. In total, six witnesses were heard by the jury.
Onyango, 34, a native of Kenya, arrived in the U.S. in 1998. She married Freeby, who she met while the two worked at a McDonald's Restaurant in Whitehall. They married March 20, 2001. A time later Freeby returned to Lansford and began a relationship with another woman, which resulted in two children. Onyango remained in the Allentown area.
Onyango was last seen on Dec. 9, 2007. One of her brothers reported her missing, noting she had not used her email account, bank account, credit card or phone since that date.
She was first reported missing to Lansford police, who initiated the missing persons investigation. In January 2008, after state police took over the investigation and conducted a search of Freeby's home, the probe became a homicide.
Freeby was arrested in August 2009 and has been in the county prison since then.
Among the witnesses called yesterday was Phobe Onyango, younger sister of Edwina. She said she was in daily contact with her older sister by phone. Phobe Onyango resides in Seattle, Wash.
She said on the morning of Dec. 9, 2007, she had a voice-mail message from her sister stating she was going to Lansford to see Freeby. She said he had gotten off work when she checked her phone. She said she went to bed but called her sister later that day, but got no answer.
She said she became concerned as she did not hear from her sister anymore that day or the next several days. She said she called Freeby to see if he knew where she was.
She testified Freeby told her Edwina had come to his home and he had given her $50. He also said she left her car with him. She said she later called police to report her missing.
Attorney George Dydynsky, who is assisting Levy in the defense of Freeby, questioned Phobe Onyango about the problems her sister was having with immigration officials and that she had been threatened to be deported. She said she did not know her sister was threatened to be deported, but knew she was attempting to get her green card to remain in the country.
She also said he knew her sister was using the name of another person to gain and keep employment.
When Dydynsky asked her if she knew Edwina was HIV positive, Phobe Onyango said, "This is the first I have heard that."
Others family members testifying were brothers Lamech Onyango and Reuben Onyango. Both said they have a close-knit family and they both had contact with Edwina at least once a week. Those contacts ended on Dec. 9.
Testifying was Edith Schoch, of Bethlehem, who said Edwina worked for her has a health care specialist. She said Edwina lived in her home and took care of her and her husband by cooking meals, washing clothes and doing whatever was needed. She said, however, she did not know her as Edwina Onyango, but by another name, Veronica Guides.
She said on Dec. 9, 2007, Edwina left her home about 11 a.m. in her car, which she said she was very proud of and took good care of, and said she would be back. She said she never returned.
Schoch said Edwina left all her clothing, jewelry and money in her room at her home. She said she became concerned when Edwina did not return and later called police in Bethlehem and Allentown.
Under questioning by Dydynsky, Schoch said she knew Edwina was sending money to her family in Kenya and didn't know about her marriage to Freeby. She also said she didn't find out her real name until police came to her home.
Michelle Reid, of Allentown, said she met Edwina in May 2007 when Edwina contacted her to buy health care products. She said she spoke to Edwina on Dec. 5, at which time Edwina had ordered some health care products.
She said they agreed to meet on Dec. 12, but Edwina never showed.
Asked by Dobias if Edwina ever failed to show up to a meeting with her, Reid said she was always prompt and was very reliable.
Testimony was set to resume at 9 a.m. today with more family members and friends of Edwina expected to be called.