Nurse, CO testify in muder trial: Suspect made 3 suicide attempts in jail

the prosecution elicited this testimony on Yale's suicide attempts as evidence of his "consciousness of guilt"

By Andrew Scott
Pocono Record

MONROE COUNTY, Pa. — In Monroe County Correctional Facility without bail, while on trial for allegedly killing his wife and staging her death to look like an accidental fall down steps, a man thrice attempted suicide in his jail cell Sunday, a nurse and corrections officer testified Monday.

Having charged Edward Yale, now 76, with fatally beating second wife Joan Litts-Yale, 60, in the Middle Smithfield Township home the couple shared in 2001, the prosecution elicited this testimony on Yale's suicide attempts as evidence of his "consciousness of guilt."

Yale had been living with his third wife in East Bangor when incarcerated on murder charges in 2013. He was led into the courtroom Monday, the fourth day of his trial, continuing to project a besieged demeanor that gave away no clue as to what the two witnesses said had happened Sunday.

A nurse working at the jail for Harrisburg-based PrimeCare Medical, Stephanie Mullen said she was called to Yale's cell and found him unresponsive and gasping for air. Mullen said she discovered a piece of elastic made tight around Yale's neck, choking him.

She said she was handed a pair of scissors by a corrections officers arriving after she did and cut the elastic, at which point Yale then took a deep breath of air, began crying and said, "Oh my God." He was then rushed by ambulance to Pocono Medical Center.

Corrections Officer James Damicki said he rode with Yale in the back of the ambulance and that Yale admitted to having failed to kill himself in three different ways.

"He said he tried to use the extension cord from a breathing machine he was using at the time to stop his pacemaker," Damicki testified. "He said he then put a sugar substitute in the machine's oxygen mask and tried breathing it into his lungs. He said the third try involved the elastic. He was crying and distraught when he told me all this. I do remember a mental health expert stopping by at some point to see him."

Yale married Litts-Yale in 1992, the year after he divorced his first wife and three years after Litts-Yale's first husband died from cancer, and moved into the home she and her first husband had shared on Mount Nebo Road in Middle Smithfield Township.

The couple argued constantly over him building an addition onto the house and then wanting to own half of the property, which she wanted to leave to her sons, in order to leave something for his own children from his previous marriage, according to other witnesses' testimony. These arguments continued up until the time of Litts-Yale's death.

In 2002, the year after Litts-Yale's death, Yale married current wife Gloria Yale and moved into the Portland home she shared with her ailing, elderly mother whom she took care of. After her mother died in 2006, the couple built their East Bangor home and moved there in 2007.

Gloria Yale was present, but in another room, when police came there to re-interview Yale after Litts-Yale's murder case had been reopened and reassigned in 2011. Yale, who voluntarily agreed to be re-interviewed and remained pleasant during questioning, according to his wife, was later arrested after an investigative grand jury recommended he be charged in Litts-Yale's death.

Gloria Yale testified Monday that she has been visiting her husband weekly in jail since then and that he has been getting more depressed and upset over food and other conditions at the jail.

Hired by the defense after the case was reopened, private detective Donald Pugh testified Yale, whom he too has visited on a regular basis, has been mentally deteriorating and unable to answer questions or follow a train of thought.

Also testifying Monday were Yale's former Mount Nebo Road neighbors.

Agnes Diehl said Litts-Yale, after marrying Yale, went from being bubbly and outgoing to being a sad, withdrawn woman who "walked on eggshells" around Yale and gained weight, though Diehl admitted to being unaware of a thyroid condition causing Litts-Yale's weight gain. Diehl said she heard the couple arguing in Summer 2000, the year before Litts-Yale's death, and that it was mostly Yale raising his voice, though she couldn't make out any words.

When testifying for the defense, Pugh said it's unlikely Diehl would've been able to hear any arguments due to the distance between her home and Yale's.

Diehl's daughter, Rebecca Diehl, who was 11 at the time of Litts-Yale's death, said she was home sick from school March 22, 2001, the day of Litts-Yale's death, and the following day.

She said she looked out of her window that following day, the day after police interviewed Yale, and saw him burning something in his back yard. She said she put a jacket on and went out in the March weather, despite being sick, to take a look, but still couldn't tell what Yale was burning.

Again, when testifying for the defense, Pugh said it's unlikely the girl would've been able to even see Yale's back yard from her house, due to distance and trees screening Yale's property at the time.

Living next door to Yale at the time, Robert Vandercar said he never heard the couple argue, but admitted to working two jobs at the time and not being home much.

"On the day Joan died, Ed called me at work and told me she had fallen down the stairs," Vandercar said. "He seemed upset. He didn't want me to come over because Joan's sons were there. He was outside his house when I got home from work that day. He didn't seem very emotional at that point, but it was obvious he'd been crying. His eyes were red."

Vandercar said Yale phoned him out of the blue, years after Litts-Yale's death but prior to Yale's 2013 arrest. He said Yale wanted to come over and discuss something in person.

"When he came over, he told me police had reopened the investigation into Joan's death," Vandercar said. "I cut him off and told him I wasn't going to lie on the stand if this went to trial. I told him, 'I know something you don't and I gotta tell you what it is.'

"I told him I was working on my flower bed one day, must've been the year before Joan's death, when she was home and he wasn't," he said. "I told him she came outside and asked me to come over. I told him she said they had argued and that she feared for her life, though I myself don't remember hearing any arguing on the day she told me this. She did seem a little upset and a little fearful."

After the defense objected to the prosecution eliciting this testimony, the judge instructed the jury to view the testimony not for its truth or falsehood, but for its context within the case.

"When Joan told me this, she said she had notified her sons," said Vandercar.

However, when questioned by the defense, he said he doesn't recall later telling police about Litts-Yale having told him she notified her sons.

"When I told Ed what Joan had told me that day, he smacked himself in the forehead and said, 'This is a setup, this is a setup,'" Vandercar testified. "He seemed really upset."

Agnes Diehl said, "My daughter and I were sitting behind Ed at his district court preliminary hearing after his arrest. He turned around, looked at me and whispered, 'I know who you are and where you live. That's my wife sitting next to you.' That made me nervous. My daughter and I changed our seats and sat farther away from him after that."

The defense began calling its witnesses after the prosecution, reserving the right to call rebuttal witnesses, rested its case Monday.

State police investigator Craig Vanlouvender testified Litts-Yale's son, Ron Litts, who often had been called to mediate in arguments between Yale and Litts-Yale, reported never having seen Yale become violent toward Litts-Yale.

Vanlouvender said Litts never mentioned having witnessed Yale throw a chair or use profanity toward Litts-Yale during an argument on March 19, 2001, three days before her death. However, under prosecution cross-examination, he said Litts in fact did tell him about witnessing these things, but was unclear on the specific date.

Vounlouvender said Litts never mentioned having asked Litts-Yale to come stay with him on March 20, 2001, or that he was aware of Litts-Yale, who was overweight with bad knees and easily out of breath, using the stairs on the day of her death.

Vanlouvender said Litts-Yale's other son, Randy Litts, told him she had reported experiencing hallucinations, as a side effect of her thyroid medication, and that he had never heard Yale threaten her. He said Randy Litts did report having once heard Yale threaten to have her committed to a mental facility.

Another defense witness was blood stain pattern analyst Anita Zannin, who had compiled a report after looking at 2001 photos of the death scene, the 2001 autopsy report and various police records.

Yale said he was watching TV and doing laundry that morning when Litts-Yale told him she was heading out to a 9 a.m. hairdresser's appointment, according to police testimony. He said she went through the kitchen door to walk down the stairs to their garage, but that he didn't hear her open the garage door or start the car.

He told police he went to check on her and found her lying face-down at the bottom of the stairs, according to testimony. He said he rolled her over and saw she was dead, after which he used a rag to wipe blood from around her mouth and then called 911.

Zannin doesn't agree with police's interpretation of blood stain patterns as showing Litts-Yale died from a beating or stomping, as opposed to a fall down the steps.

Police said blood stains, found on a box near the body, indicate Litts-Yale was down on the ground in the garage when beaten or stomped about the head and face, causing blood to be spattered onto the box. Zannin said those same stains are less consistent with a beating or stomping and more consistent with Litts-Yale "expiring" or coughing up blood from injuries suffered possibly in a fall.

"Some might easily confuse blood spatter stains from expiration with similar-looking stains caused by violence inflicted upon a victim," Zannin said. "Police say they see no evidence of air bubbles, which are present in expired blood, but air bubbles are less likely if the blood is expired from the mouth instead of all the way from the lungs."

The prosecution pointed out that the 2001 autopsy report found no blood in Litts-Yale's lungs.

It remains to be seen if Yale himself will be called to testify, with the trial scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Copyright 2015 the Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa.

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