The trial for a Wyoming County man charged with the killing of a 24-year-old woman and then dumping her body in the Susquehanna River at Falls, has been delayed another two months.
Phillip Donald Walters, 32, of Mill City, is alleged to have killed his live-in girlfriend Haley Lorenzen in December. The body was recovered July 20, some 22 miles downstream.
In a Pre-Trial hearing to limit evidence and testimony at trial Thursday morning, Walters’ attorney Timothy Michaels argued before Wyoming County President Judge Russell Shurtleff that he had only recently accessed records that he believed he should have been given a long time ago, and he also believed he had been denied access to an alleged female witness who had been granted immunity from prosecution last January.
In the hearing which lasted nearly two hours, Michaels opened his arguments with two stacks of papers in front of him - one about four inches tall and another he estimated to be about seven and a half inches tall.
The larger pile, Michaels said, was evidence he had acquired since Oct. 30, and he argued he should have been given the material a lot sooner, and because he had not was not prepared to use all of that new material at trial on Nov. 18.
“This is a mountain of work. I could spend my full time between now and then just reading, and not really getting anywhere.”
He said that most significant and disconcerting in his defense preparations was that “the principal witness was being withheld” and he indicated once again it suggested a total bias on the part of the Commonwealth.
Michaels said he understood the immunity document for a person identified as Gable Bell was that “the client shall not discuss this case with anyone.”
He added, “We have not been allowed to confer with Miss Bell and see if she is credible. We’ve lost that opportunity.”
District Attorney Jeff Mitchell countered to the judge, “What you have just heard is a bunch of accusations, none of them grounded in the truth.”
He added, “The rules do not require the Commonwealth to make copies. We have gone above and beyond what’s required,” noting that his office has always had “an open file” policy with judicial matters.
Mitchell said, “They’ve had this case for months. It’s his job to come and review what’s on file. I have no problem, with that, but he’s not done any of that. In a case like this parties have to communicate.”
He said that it was “unbelievable” that in a homicide case, Michaels had never asked for a single item that was not handed over. “To state otherwise is ludicrous.”
“In regard to Miss Bell, I did not know that this would ever go to trial” when the immunity agreement was reached, “and I was not thinking of keeping Miss Bell from cross examination,” suggesting the business of her not talking about the case with anyone actually applied to family, friends, co-workers or Facebook posts.
Mitchell noted that back in February, Michaels did indeed have an opportunity to get whatever he needed from Miss Bell. “Don’t come back now and say, ‘We shielded her from him.’”
Mitchell noted, “I can assure you that nothing she has to say will exonerate Mr. Walters.”
The hearing included other matters of evidence, including a pathologist’s report.
Judge Shurtleff denied the defense’s case to limit evidence and testimony at trial, and stated in his order, “The Commonwealth was not responsible for any delay and that defense counsel is not prepared to proceed with trial on Nov. 18.”
“In the interest of justice,” the order said, “Trial in this matter shall be continued to Jan. 21, 2020.”
He also noted that Gabel Bell shall appear for in camera hearing on Jan. 8 “at which time counsel for defendant shall be permitted to question said witness.”
Walters was arrested Jan. 9 and charged with criminal homicide. He remains jailed at the Wyoming County Correctional Facility.