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It's life for Freeby

  • TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Ernest Troy Freeby
    TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Ernest Troy Freeby
Published May 15. 2012 05:01PM

Ernest Troy Freeby was sentenced Monday in Carbon County court to a term of life without the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife.

Freeby, 36, of Lansford, maintained his innocence of the crime a jury panel convicted him of on Jan. 30, following a three-week trial, one of the longest ever in the history of the county court.

In fact, Freeby told President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II to "sentence me to f- death," adding he favored that rather than spending the rest of his life in prison for a crime he claims he didn't commit.

Freeby was convicted of killing Edwina Aiteno Onyango, 34, a native of Keynya, in the basement of his home and disposing of the body. The case and trial was unusual in that Onyango's body has never been found.

Freeby also made a rambling statement to the court accusing investigating state police of fabricating evidence and lying to the jury. He also said searches made to his residence were illegal. He rambled about forensic evidence police gathered in the basement of his home as being tainted.

But Nanovic told him the jury heard the evidence and found him guilty. He said statements about the searches were covered by his defense team of attorneys Paul Levy and George Dydynsky, of the public defenders office, in various motions made before the trial and during the trial on which the court ruled.

Nanovic also said all the allegations he was making before the court can be part of any appeal that is going to be filed by his defense attorneys.

District Attorney Gary F. Dobias called the crime one of the worst types to come before a prosecutor.

Dobias said Freeby has never expressed any concern about the whereabouts of his wife. He said he did not cooperate at all with state police in the investigation of her disappearance. He said, in fact, that Freeby, "taunted investigators, tampered with evidence, misled police and lied to them."

Dobias also commended the state police in their tireless effort to find out what happened to Onyango. The intense investigation eventually led to the filing of a murder charge against Freeby.

Levy told Nanovic that an appeal of the verdict would be filed. He said that it was an "understatement" to say Freeby refuted the jury's decision. He said the evidence did not support the verdict of guilt.

The trial began with jury selection of Jan. 9 with testimony starting Jan. 10. It continued until Monday, Jan. 30, when Nanovic charged the jury and they began deliberations.

The jury deliberated more than five hours before finding Freeby guilty of first degree murder and tampering with evidence.

Freeby did not testify at the trial and told Nanovic yesterday that he wanted to but that his attorneys told him not to.

Nanovic took issue with that claim, stating he spoke with Freeby in his chambers concerning his right to testify. He said he told Freeby, "I told you that the decision to testify or not was solely yours and yours alone."

A brother of the victim spoke on behalf of the family. He thanked Dobias and the state police for their efforts to find out what happened to his sister. He also said that the family still wants to learn where she is and what happened to her.

Onyango disappeared on Dec. 9, 2007, and was first reported missing on Dec. 10 by family members. She was last seen at Freeby's home on Dec. 9. The two married in 2001 but were living apart for some time. Freeby had entered into a new relationship with another woman and had three children with her.

Freeby told investigators at the time that Onyango came to his home on Dec. 9 to get a phone bill. He also said she left a car with him which he jointly owned with her. He said he made numerous calls to her cell phone after that date to contact her but never could.

The trial included testimony from about 60 witnesses, most of them for the commonwealth. There was also witness testimony of DNA collected in the case from experts in the field along with experts in blood patterns. That testimony supported the state police probe which indicated Freeby killed his wife in the coal bin in the basement of his home and then disposed of the body.

State police and experts called by Dobias established blood stains and patterns in the basement area and coal bin in particular, compared to a sample taken from one of the victim's brothers, were hers.

One of the most damaging witnesses against Freeby was his ex-girlfriend, Julianne Frances Snearly. She told the jury about a conversation she and the defendant had on a ride home from visiting her parents in Whitehall. She said it occurred along SR145 when she was talking to Freeby about divorcing Onyango so they could get married. She said Freeby told her he couldn't divorce Onyango until she got her green card. Then Snearly added, Freeby said the only way he was going to get rid of her (Onyango) was by killing her.

Onyango was in the country since September 1998. Freeby was arrested in August 2009.

At the time of his arrest and yesterday at the conclusion of the sentencing proceeding, Freeby said, "I didn't murder anyone."

The lead investigators of the case were Cpl. Thomas McAndrew, of the criminal unit of the Hazleton barracks, and Trooper William Maynard, of the Fern Ridge barracks, who was stationed at Lehighton when the probe began.

The case started as a missing persons investigation reported to Lansford police by Onyango's family. Lansford police turned it over to state police on or about Dec. 26, 2007.

At the trial Dobias said the persistence of the Onyango family with finding her, and their pleading with police for help, was a driving force in the probe.

Freeby's defense team had two witnesses, his mother, Patricia Gordon, and a person who worked at a check cashing business in Whitehall, Doris Meitymer, both testifying that they saw Onyango alive after she was reported missing. Under cross-examination by Dobias, Meitymer admitted that her testimony had changed since police interviewed her about seeing the victim. He also asked why she never came forward with the information when she knew police were looking for her. She told the jury, "It slipped my mind."

Dobias said in his closing to the jury that the case was based on much circumstantial evidence, but the testimony of the witnesses, the experts, all pointed to the guilt of Freeby.

Nanovic also sentenced Freeby to two years probation on the tampering charge, consecutive to the first degree murder count.

Freeby had been in custody for about 1,015 days since his arrest.

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