Prosecution, defense make closing arguments in Wade trial
Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Bill Petulla said a trail of evidence led investigators to Allen Wade in the 2014 murder of his East Liberty neighbors, sisters Susan and Sarah Wolfe. In his closing argument Wednesday, Petulla laid out a literal trail of exhibits leading jurors to the defense table.
“This isn’t just a trail leading from the ‘presumption of innocence’ to ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ this is a trail leading directly to Allen Wade,” Petulla said at the end of his two-hour closing argument. Jurors received the case Wednesday afternoon.
At one end of the jury box, Petulla laid the empty detergent bottles whose contents had been spread all over the basement murder scene in an apparent effort to destroy DNA. Next to the bottles, he put Styrofoam heads that were marked to show where Susan, 44, and Sarah, 38, had been shot in the backs of their heads the night of Feb. 6, 2014. Next to the heads, he put the bullets that police recovered.
Records from Susan Wolfe’s cellphone, Wade’s cellphone and the alarm system at the Chislett Street home were spread across the front of Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski’s bench, while blood-spattered boxes from the Wolfes’ foyer and articles of clothing containing Wade’s DNA were laid in front of where Wade, 45, sat throughout the 13-day trial.
In her 90-minute closing, defense attorney Lisa Middleman questioned the credibility of much of the evidence. She noted photos that showed police stood around Susan Wolfe’s body without any protective covering on their shoes; that police left a bag, a coat and a flashlight in the basement in close proximity to the bodies; and that they used the dining room table and toilet upstairs.
The DNA used to link evidence to Wade, particularly DNA under Susan Wolfe’s fingernails attributed to Wade, “was compromised from the start,” Middleman said.
“If evidence was mishandled at the scene, it doesn’t matter what lab you send it to,” she said.
Middleman argued that police were in a rush to convict Wade and ignored questions about Sarah Wolfe’s boyfriend, whose alibi and behavior she called “sketchy.”
Investigators pieced together video evidence showing a figure alleged to be Wade skulking around the East Liberty business district and withdrawing money from Sarah Wolfe’s bank account at an ATM. Middleman said they ignored video from another business showing a similar figure walking in the opposite direction from the Sunoco where police said Wade went and bought cigarettes after abandoning his clothes along the way.
“Don’t believe them just because they’re the police; understand that their bias is all over this case,” Middleman said. “They basically overlooked any motive other than taking the (bank) cards; they overlooked any suspect other than Allen Wade.”
Police found a pair of sweatpants, a pair of socks and a knit hat abandoned along Whitfield Street, near where they’d found Sarah Wolfe’s car parked early Feb. 8.
“They were meant to be found, and they weren’t left by Allen Wade,” Middleman said.
The Allegheny County medical examiner’s crime lab said Wade could not be excluded as a contributor to the DNA on the sweatpants, socks and beneath Susan’s nails. Oakland-based Cybergenetics took the crime lab’s data and calculated all the possible combinations in the DNA mix to conclude Wade was quintillions of times more likely than some other black male to have left his DNA on the pants and the socks.
The same analysis gave a much lower but still significant chance Sarah Wolfe’s DNA may have been on one of the socks, which Petulla said could have happened if Wade covered his hand with it to avoid leaving his own DNA or fingerprints inside her car.
Petulla countered that the defense’s questions about the boyfriend and the mishandled evidence were “bridges to nowhere” distracting from the facts of the case.
It was outlandish, he said, to imagine someone killing the sisters and stealing their bank cards, then framing Wade with a trail of clothes tainted with his DNA through East Liberty just before he showed up at the Sunoco to buy cigarettes.
He scoffed at the defense’s suggestion that if police contaminated the scene, it would have somehow led to Wade’s DNA getting under Susan Wolfe’s fingernails.
“If you can’t change the facts, you have to change the focus,” Petulla said.
The jury will resume deliberating Thursday morning.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer.Reach him at 412 391 0927 or [email protected].