Justo Smoker’s preliminary hearing was held Friday, to determine if the homicide case against him would go to trial. After an hour-and-twenty minute hearing, District Judge Denise Commins ruled that prosecutors had met the burden to proceed.
They needed to provide sufficient evidence that a crime was committed in the case of Linda Stoltzfoos’ disappearance last summer, and that the defendant is likely responsible. These were the bars to clear in order for the case to proceed to the county court.
There was only one witness at the hearing. From Lancaster Online:
East Lampeter Township police Detective Christopher Jones testified that DNA samples collected by swabbing Smoker’s cheeks matched DNA samples found on Stoltzfoos’ blue bra and white stockings. Pennsylvania State Police found the items July 10 while searching a wooded area near a Ronks business.
A witness and data from Smoker’s cell phone had placed him in the area of the business.
Jones said there was a one-in-a-septillion chance that the DNA came from someone other than Smoker. That’s 10 followed by 24 zeroes; Earth’s population is about 7.8 billion.
Jones also testified that several Amish females told investigators that a car matching Smoker’s and driven by a person fitting his description drove suspiciously around them near where Stoltzfoos disappeared on June 20 and June 21.
Smoker had also purchased alcohol, packs of gloves and five pairs of shoelaces that day, and more alcohol and more pairs of gloves on June 21.
That showed, First Assistant District Attorney Todd Brown argued, that Smoker had been stalking Amish females. The stalking, paired with the gloves and alcohol, evidence he cleaned his car, DNA evidence and cell phone data, showed Stoltzfoos died “by criminal agency at the hands of Mr. Smoker,” he said.
Smoker’s attorney countered that the prosecution has offered no proof that Linda Stoltzfoos was actually in Smoker’s car. The footage does not show Linda entering the car. Jones also testified under cross-examination that Linda’s DNA was not found on any samples from the car.
Present in the courtroom were three Amishmen and Linda’s uncle Mervin Fisher, as well as Justo Smoker’s brother Victor.
Next in the case will be a formal arraignment. That is when the judge will read the charges, and Smoker will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Smoker already pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping and false imprisonment charges against him in August. The arraignment for the homicide charge is scheduled for March 26th.
Linda’s body has not been found. A victim’s body is not needed to prosecute someone with homicide, though it has happened only once in Lancaster County history.
Investigators continue to search for Linda Stoltzfoos.