WEST CHESTER — The trial of a former Tredyffrin man accused of handcuffing his then-girlfriend and suffocating her with a bedroom pillow during a night-long confrontation has been postponed at the request of the prosecution, largely because of attempts by investigators to gather new evidence that could point to his guilt.
Chester County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Carmody, who is overseeing the case and its myriad pre-trial maneuverings, on July 29 granted the motion to continue made by Assistant District Attorney Michelle Thurstlic-O’Neill, even as the defense complained that the case had dragged on for more than 18 months since the December 2018 arrest of David Bookstaber.
Carmody said the case would appear on his September trial list, although it is unclear whether the prosecution would be prepared to proceed with it even then.
Bookstaber, 44, stands accused of aggravated assault, strangulations, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and related charges in the case, which saw his ex-girlfriend first accuse him of the charges, then recant and attempt to have the charges withdrawn, and then recently accuse Bookstaber of coaching her on how to get the charges against him dropped.
A Yale graduate and former marksman with the U.S. Air Force, Bookstaber has been identified in court documents as a “person of interest” in a homicide investigation involving a 62-year-old widow, Denise Barger, who was found dead in her Berwyn home in June 2016. She lived alone, in a house next to where Bookstaber and his family lived at the time.
In a search warrant at the time, police said they found a trail of blood from Barger’s bedroom on the second floor of her home, down a set of stairs, out a rear door, and across a yard towards Bookstaber’s home on Heatherstone Drive. He has not been charged with any crime in the case, which is still under investigation.
The assault charges were scheduled to be heard by a jury beginning Monday, the first jury trial to be convened in Chester County since the courts halted such proceedings because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
In her motion to continue the case, Thurstlic-O’Neill pointed to new revelations by the alleged victim in the assault case, Alicia Rosato, as the primary reason behind the request.
According to the motion, in discussion with members of the D.A.’s Office, a Chester County Detective, and Tredyffrin police, Rosato announced that her efforts in the fall of 2019 to have the charges against Bookstaber dropped were based on a “script” that he had shared with her and they had worked on together.
She said that at the time she was financially dependent on Bookstaber and that “he had made it clear that his continued support was conditioned on her continuing to "‘help him out,’” Thurstlic-Oneill wrote.
Based on her statement, the prosecution began searching Rosato’s computer and email account. They found a number of “scripts,” between Rosato and Bookstaber. But the full contents of the download have yet to be forensically analyzed.
In addition, investigators seized two laptops and a thumb-drive device from Bookstaber’s Montgomery County hotel room, where he was quarantining himself in preparation for the trial after traveling from his new home in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
A computer specialist with the Chester County detectives has been able to copy some of the information on one of the seized laptops but has held off on reading it completely for fear that some of the communication might be between Bookstaber and his attorney, Joseph P. Green Jr. of West Chester.
Also, the investigator, county Detective Joshua Kennon, had been unable to access information on the second laptop because of “extensive security measures. The FBI may have to be brought in to help unlock the contents on that computer," Thurstlic-O’Neill said.
The prosecutor said she intended to use information about Bookstaber’s attempt to coach Rosato on her story at trial as evidence of his consciousness of guilt, but would not be able to have all of that information ready by Monday. She is still awaiting the result of a search warrant filed for Bookstaber’s emails.
In addition to the pursuit of the new information, Thurstlic-O’Neill said she needed to discuss Rosato’s physical therapy and additional medical records related to the alleged assault, but had not yet been able to contact her orthopedic specialist about testifying at Bookstaber’s trial.
She noted that in the months since the case was brought to Common Pleas Court, her office had asked for only one previous continuance, in July 2019. The rest of the continuance requests had been made by Green.
Bookstaber was arrested on Dec. 5, 2018, after he allegedly handcuffed Rosato, restrained her on a bed for about six hours, and held a pillow over her mouth causing her twice to pass out. Rosato had called Tredyffrin police to Bookstaber’s townhouse on West Golf Club Lane after Bookstaber allegedly released her from the restraints.
Green, in defense of Bookstaber, has argued that his client had no intention of injuring Rosato and that he was attempting to keep her from harming herself while she was experiencing some emotional and psychological traumas the night of the incident. He noted that at some point during the night, Rosato had left Bookstaber’s rented house, unclothed, and had returned voluntarily.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.