WEST CHESTER - Attorneys today begin to select the jurors who could determine whether accused killer Matthew Eshbach lives or dies.
Eshbach, 28, of Pottstown faces the death penalty on charges of murdering a young Pottstown couple and their unborn child in 2002.
He and co-defendant Michael G. McGrory, 29, allegedly kidnapped and killed Kerry Schadler, 21, and his wife Katherine Schadler, 20, who was 22 weeks pregnant.
The men, both from Pottstown, allegedly dumped the victims' bodies in Tow Path Park in East Coventry.
Jury selection is scheduled to take place through Friday. The trial will begin on Monday before Common Pleas Judge Juan R. Sanchez.
District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll will try the case for the commonwealth. There are state statutes that outline the criteria for a death penalty case, but ultimately it is Carroll's decision.
Christian J. Hoey was appointed by the court to represent Eshbach.
Investigators believe Eshbach and McGrory's alleged killings were motivated by fear.
McGrory and friends Joshua Sheeler, Ian Taylor Travis Drumheller, and James Rivera had been suspected of a string of restaurant robberies between Sept. 30 and Oct. 15, 2002, including La Taverna restaurant in Schuylkill Township.
McGrory, Sheeler, Taylor and Drumheller were eventually charged with the robberies. Police found Rivera after he hanged himself in his apartment.
Eshbach ran his own construction business and was not involved in any of the robberies, according to police.
The Schadlers were friends of several robbery suspects and the suspects had boasted about the heists to the couple.
Afraid the Schadlers had been talking to the police, McGrory and, allegedly, Eshbach showed up at the couple's home sometime after 2 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2002.
The Schadlers were tied up with phone cords and driven in McGrory's car to a wooded area near routes 23 and 345. McGrory has admitted to police he remove Kerry Schadler from the car, forced him to the ground, choked him, then dropped his knee onto Kerry Schadler's neck.
At that point Katherine Schadler, still seated in the car, begged for her life.
"Take me home, I won't tell anybody," she said, according to an account of McGrory's statements to detectives in the criminal affidavit.
Police reported that McGrory then told her, "It'll be OK," and motioned for her to lean into to his chest. As she did, McGrory reportedly strangled her using his arm and a purse strap.
Their bodies were found in Tow Path Park, shortly after 7 a.m.
The plot to kill the couple was devised several hours earlier at the Touch of Glass bar in Pottstown, according to police.
In January 2003 Judge Sanchez signed a gag order preventing the attorneys in the case from discussing the trial.
In July 2003, Hoey and McGrory's attorneys, public defenders Stewart C. Paintin and Elizabeth Plasser, filed individual motions requesting separate trials for Eshbach and McGrory. The attorney for both suspects also filed motions requesting that the judge prevent the prosecution from using statement both suspects gave to police.
McGrory has since accepted a plea bargain to save his life. He admitted his role in the slayings in February.
McGrory pled guilty to two counts of first degree murder, one count of murder of an unborn child, and one count of conspiracy to commit criminal homicide. He also pleaded out to numerous robbery charges.
In exchange, he will spend the rest of his life in jail.
He may be called as a witness. Carroll would not confirm this because of the gag order.
Hoey has also filed motions to drop charges against Eshbach for kidnapping, robbery and murder of an unborn child, as well as motions to suppress evidence and statements Eshbach made to the police.
On March 2, Judge Sanchez delivered a 23-page ruling denying all the motions.