High court denies murder appeal
A convicted Carbon County murderer has lost another appeal of his conviction.
The state’s highest court, Supreme Court, has refused to review the decision of the state Superior Court denying the appeal of Ernest Freeby.
A three-member Superior Court panel earlier this year denied Freeby’s appeal by affirming a decision by Carbon County President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II in denying Freeby, 43, of Lansford, relief under the Post Conviction Relief Act.
Freeby was convicted by a jury on Jan. 30, 2012, of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Edwina Aiteno Onyango, 34, a native of Kenya.
The trial began with jury selection on Jan. 9, with testimony beginning on Jan. 10, and concluding with the verdict. It was one of the longest criminal trials in the county in recent history. The trial lasted just over three weeks. Freeby did not testify at the trial.
The case was unique in that Onyango’s body has never been found.
Onyango was first reported missing by family members on Dec. 10, 2007, when they stopped hearing from her. The investigation revealed Onyango told her sister and others she was going to Freeby’s home in Lansford on Dec. 9 to get a phone bill. She was never heard from again.
Freeby said Onyango was at his home on that date but was only there for about 10 minutes. He said she was there with another black woman. He said she left her car with him because she was going to get a new one.
However, in other interviews with police, Freeby changed his story. The 10-minute visit turned into a two and a half-hour one.
There was also testimony about a credit card that belonged to Onyango which Freeby used several times after her disappearance after telling police he never saw the credit card.
There was testimony of Freeby painting the basement area including the basement steps, the coal bin door and other areas after Dec. 9.
One of the most damaging witnesses was Freeby’s ex-girlfriend, Julianne Frances Snearly, who said she was talking to Freeby about divorcing Onyango so they could get married.
She said Freeby said the only way he was going to get rid of her (Onyango) was by killing her. She never told police, she said, because she didn’t take Freeby seriously, but added, “I never forgot it.”
Recently, the highest court issued a one-sentence order stating it would not consider the request, meaning the Superior Court’s denial stands.
In July 2014 the state’s Supreme Court denied his appeal of the verdict and sentence imposed, life without parole, in a one-line opinion. The highest court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision denying his appeal. That decision was made in December 2013.
The state court ruled that Freeby received a fair trial and the life without parole sentence imposed by Nanovic was appropriate. The rejection of his appeal of the verdict and sentence ended his direct appeal rights.
Freeby then filed an appeal under the Post Conviction Relief Act, via Collins. Nanovic held a hearing on the appeal and issued an opinion denying it. Freeby then appealed that decision to the Superior Court, which affirmed Nanovic’s decision. Now the highest court has determined it will not review the lower court’s decision.
Then District Attorney Gary F. Dobias successfully prosecuted the case.
Since his retirement, Dobias has also handled the commonwealth’s response to Freeby’s appeals of the verdict and sentence and his PCRA petition.