Commonwealth vs. James BIDWELL
This is a murder prosecution involving the death of a 27-year-old woman named Kristen Wagner. Miss Wagner’s body was found hanging in a broken down refrigerated trailer located on Crowe Road in East Stroudsburg at the defendant’s scrapyard. The defense will claim that the victim hung herself. The case was presented to the Monroe County Investigating Grand Jury. After over a year of working on the case, the Grand Jury recommended that the defendant be charged for the murder of Kristen Wagner. Trial in the case was scheduled in October of this year; however, the defense requested more time to obtain an expert and to prepare for trial. Trial was rescheduled to begin January 16, 2018.
On December 15, 2017, Judge Worthington issued an order not allowing the Commonwealth to use certain key evidence in the prosecution. This evidence included the defendant’s drug use, mostly methamphetamine, as well as his violent assaults towards women with whom he was in a relationship. The violence included his attacking the women from the front with his bare hands and choking them. Recently the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Strangulation Bill which makes it a felony to strangle or choke certain victims. This new law was in recognition of the serious threat posed by domestic violence offenders who strangle. Indeed, according to the Bill’s Materials and research, a person is 800 times more likely to be murdered where there is a history of prior strangulation. Additionally, Kristen Wagner was observed being choked by the defendant several months prior to her death. This evidence is routinely allowed in prosecutions to show, among other things, a possible motive for the crime, the intent shown during the commission of the crime, and to counter defenses such as accident; or in this case a claim of suicide.
For example, the Supreme Court in Commonwealth vs Elliot allowed evidence of three other females who suffered unrelated sexual and physical attacks upon them by that defendant. The court found a “logical connection” between the crimes. In Commonwealth vs Miller the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a prosecution for rape and murder found a logical connection between that victim’s murder and several other females who were lured into a vehicle by that defendant, taken to a remote location, raped, and beaten in a similar way. Or in the case of Commonwealth versus May, a cold case homicide, the court affirmed the introduction of evidence where several other women were attacked in a similar manner to the victim in areas close to where that victim’s skeletal remains were found.
Domestic violence homicides are all too frequent. I have personally prosecuted many murders coming out of bad relationships. All of these murders involved some form of staging. It could be simply moving the body to another area to cover up someone’s tracks, or as in cases such as Commonwealth vs Schirmer to stage an accident; or as alleged here to stage a suicide. A trial is a search for the truth. Since the Commonwealth only has one chance at trial it is imperative that we appeal the Court’s Decision at this time. We had prepared for trial with all witnesses and the Victim’s family ready to proceed. Unfortunately, they must once again be put on hold.
The Commonwealth takes its obligation to seek justice for the victims of domestic violence with all seriousness and importance. Attached to this Press Release is the Commonwealth’s Brief in support of the evidence as well as the defense brief opposing it, a photo of the victim and defendant together and a mug shot of the defendant.
Click Here to read the Commonwealth’s Brief.