MERCER — An attorney representing the Grove City man accused of killing his wife June 16 argued Wednesday that hearsay statements were not sufficient evidence to hold him for trial.
After about an hour of testimony, District Judge D. Neil McEwen said remaining evidence against Randall Harland Leaf was enough to hold over charges of homicide and aggravated assault for Mercer County Court of Common Pleas.
Leaf, 58, of 129 S. Broad St., was returned to Mercer County Jail following the preliminary hearing, which was held at the Mercer County Courthouse rather than in McEwen’s Pine Township courtroom. Homicide suspects in Pennsylvania are denied bond, and homicide cases in Mercer County are held at the courthouse.
Leaf is accused in the beating death of Gretchen Pallack, 58. Police found the wife’s body June 16 in a basement bedroom at the downtown Broad Street building that houses the family’s apartment and business, Superior Bedding.
His attorney, Martell Harris of Pittsburgh, had a standing hearsay objection for the entire hearing, noting that Leaf never actually admitted to killing anyone during his discussions with police.
“The defendant himself called it a ‘confession,’” Assistant District Attorney Amy Sherman said during her closing arguments.
The lone witness was Cpl. Michael Allias of the Grove City Police Department. He testified that he was dispatched to 129 S. Broad St. at 2:39 p.m. June 16 for a man who told 911 he was “bleeding and dying.”
Allias was familiar with the location as being the mattress shop and apartment shared by Leaf, Pallack and their teenage son. He was also familiar with the family.
The storefront faces Broad while the apartment’s main access is at the back of the building along Filer Alley, Allias said. The building also includes a basement with a bedroom and storage area.
When Allias and Patrolman Jason Bennett arrived, the business’ front door and the residence door in back were locked. Along with Patrolman Rob Steese, they opened the rear door with a pry bar. They saw Leaf lying on the living room floor of the apartment with self-inflicted injuries to both forearms and his throat, Allias said.
Allias and Steese used tourniquets to try and stop Leaf’s bleeding while he continued talking to 911 on the phone, saying “she’s downstairs,” Allias said. Allias said he knew Leaf meant Pallack.
After an ambulance took Leaf to the hospital, Allias wondered about Pallack and whether she was OK.
Allias, Bennett and Steese went to the basement to look for her and to try and piece together what happened to Leaf. Allias got no response after calling for Pallack but found her lying face-down on the bedroom floor next to a dumbbell.
She had visible head injuries, and there was blood on the dumbbell.
“It looked like the skull had been crushed,” Allias said.
He called 911 for another ambulance while Bennett confirmed that Pallack had no pulse. An emergency medical technician also confirmed that Pallack was deceased.
The scene was secured, and police were concerned about the couple’s teenaged son; he was not found in the building.
Steese was able to track him down after making some phone calls to family and friends, Allias said.
Police obtained a search warrant and searched the building with Grove City police Chief Dean Osborne, Patrolman Nick Ondo, Mercer County District Attorney Peter Acker and Mercer County Coroner John Libonati.
Libonati determined that Pallack died of head injuries.
Allias testified that police spoke with Leaf and Pallack’s son several times. The boy told police that he had asked his parents on the morning of June 16 about getting a birth certificate copy so he could work.
His parents went to the basement, and the boy told police that he heard them arguing. He heard them stop talking and started down the stairs.
“When he got to the bottom of the steps, he heard a thudding noise,” Allias said.
The boy went back upstairs, soon followed by his father. Leaf said “I did it. I killed her,” according to the boy’s conversations with police.
Leaf then said he was going to “end” himself and started cutting himself with a knife from the kitchen. The boy left the building and locked the door behind him.
Dr. Eric Vey, a forensic pathologist with the Erie County Coroner’s Office, performed Pallack’s autopsy on June 17 and confirmed the cause of death was head and neck injuries.
During Allias’ testimony, he said that and Bennett questioned Leaf at a Pittsburgh hospital, where Leaf claimed Pallack abused him and “drove him insane.” Allias asked Leaf if all of that history led to what happened, with Leaf saying “I did it. There’s your confession.”
Allias testified that police officers responded to previous incidents on May 30, when he tried to take his own life and there had an argument between Leaf and Pallack over a phone. Police had not previously responded to any reports of violence by Leaf.
Harris asked whether Leaf used Pallack’s name during questioning by police.
“He never made the statement, ‘I killed Gretchen Pallack,’” Allias told Harris.
Leaf is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Sept. 21 before Common Pleas Judge Ronald D. Amrhein Jr.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.