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Officers testify

Published January 12. 2012 05:01PM

The murder trial of Ernest Troy Freeby, 36, the Lansford man accused of killing his estranged wife and then disposing of the body, continued Wednesday with the jury panel hearing testimony from five more witnesses, including three police officers.

Freeby has been charged with criminal homicide and tampering with evidence. He is accused of killing Edwina Atieno Onyango, 34, on Dec. 9, 2007, in the coal bin of the basement of his Lansford home, and disposing of the body. Her body has never been found.

Freeby and Onyango, a native of Kenya but who has lived in the United States since 1997, married in March 2001 and separated sometime later. Freeby moved to Lansford where he began a relationship with another woman that produced two children. Onyango remained residing in the Allentown area.

District Attorney Gary F. Dobias called two Lansford police officers, a state trooper, along with a friend of the victim and a postal employee. The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II has told the jury that the trial will run during the time frame of 9 a.m. to 4-4:30 p.m. daily.


Lansford Police Chief John Turcmanovich was the first witness on Wednesday. He said he was sergeant at the time and was assigned to investigate a missing persons report filed by members of Onyango's family. He said the initial report concerning Onyango being missing was made on Dec. 17, 2007, by a brother.

He said he had further inquiries by family members on Dec. 19, 20 and 21.

He said on Dec. 21 he and a brother of the victim went to Freeby's home. Turcmanovich said during the initial report made by family members, they told him that their sister was married to Freeby and that they last spoke to her on Dec. 9 when she said she was going to the Freeby home.

Freeby said Onyango was at his home about two weeks prior to Dec. 21, but couldn't remember the date, only saying it was a Sunday. Freeby said she was there to pick up some bills. He said she left her car, identified as a Dodge Neon, with him and left with a female friend. Freeby said she stayed only 10 minutes.

Turcmanovich said he asked Freeby about their marriage. Freeby said he was living with another woman now who he had children with and who wanted to marry. Freeby told the officer he could not divorce Onyango until she got her green card.

Turcmanovich said he contacted Allentown police and state police concerning Onyango's disappearance and entered her name and other information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Turcmanovich said he continued to be contacted by Onyango's family members who were increasingly concerned about their sister.

He said on Dec. 26, 2007, he turned the case over to state police at Lehighton because they have better resources to conduct a search for a missing person.

Under questioning by defense attorney George Dydynsky, Turcmanovich said he checked the Dodge Neon and found nothing and added that Freeby said Onyango planned on getting a different vehicle.

Officer Joshua Tom testified he went to Freeby's home about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2007, at the instructions of then Chief James Strauss.

He said he asked Freeby if Onyango was in the home or if he had any contact with her. Freeby said he did not and permitted Tom to enter the home.

Tom said he did a "walk through" of the entire home including the downstairs, upstairs and basement. He said Onyango was not in the home and he found nothing unusual.

He said he left the home about midnight.

Under questioning from Dydynsky, Tom admitted that later on, about two or three weeks after being at the home, he went into the Lansford police files computer and changed his report and added the fact that he made a walk-through of the home.

He said he did it when he was told that the state police were taking over the case and it might be more than a missing persons investigation. Also, he did not see anything unusual in the coal bin in the basement when he did his walk-through.

Trooper Thomas McAndrew, of the criminal investigation unit of the Hazleton barracks, testified state police took over the investigation on Dec. 26, 2007, after receiving a phone call from the district attorney's office.

He said state police placed Onyango's name and other information in various state and federal systems used in trying to locate someone, either wanted by police or missing. He said that information included everything known about the woman including bank accounts, Social Security number and credit cards.

He also said they obtained fingerprints of Onyango from the immigration service which was put in a national search program. He said if she ever was fingerprinted anywhere in the U.S. or even other countries, they would be notified.

He also said dental records were obtained and placed in yet another search program.

To date, he said Onyango has never been located.

On Dec. 27, he said he and other troopers interviewed Freeby at his home and Freeby told him he had not seen or heard from Onyango for two weeks since she was at his residence.

He said Freeby told him that Onyango was at the home to pick up bills, an insurance check and she left her car with him. Freeby told troopers Onyango was with a tall black woman who she left with. He said he knew Onyango had a Capital One credit card, but he never used it.

Under questioning from Dydynsky, McAndrew said he could not find any record that Onyango ever secured a Pennsylvania driver's license, or from any other state. Due to all the state and federal search programs he said there is no indication she had left the U.S. or attempted to leave.

He also said he was aware she was having problems with the immigration service, but did not have any details.

Other testimony was given by family friend William O'Tuma, of New Jersey, who said he had visited Onyango while she lived in the Allentown area and met Freeby. He said he spoke with Onyango at least once a week but the contact ended around Dec. 8.

Roger Drayer, former postmaster at Whitehall, testified that Onyango had a post office box at the Whitehall facility and that mail began "piling up" indicating no one was picking up the mail.

Nanovic recessed the trial about 4 p.m. and told jurors to return at 8:45 a.m. today to resume hearing testimony.

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