Homicide suspect hires private attorney

May 11—The Crawford County Public Defender's Office is no longer representing the man accused by Pennsylvania State Police of killing a pregnant Amish woman and her unborn child in February.

Shawn A. Cranston, charged with the deaths of Rebekah Byler, 23, and her unborn child, has hired attorney Louis W. Emmi of Mt. Lebanon to represent him at his upcoming trial, according to court documents.

Cranston, 52, of Corry, is scheduled to go on trial in county court in June for allegedly killing Byler and her unborn baby girl the morning of Feb. 26 at the Byler home on Fish Flats Road in Sparta Township.

Cranston allegedly killed Byler and her unborn female child by shooting Byler in the head and/or slashing her throat, according to charges filed by Pennsylvania State Police.

The young mother was found dead in the living room of the home after Byler's husband and a family friend arrived back at the Byler home just after noon Feb. 26. The couple's two young children were found in the home unharmed.

Cranston is charged with one count each of criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, burglary with bodily injury, and criminal trespass.

Following five hours of testimony at a preliminary hearing March 15, Cranston was ordered held for trial on all counts by Magisterial District Judge Amy Nicols.

More than a dozen people were called to testify at the hearing, including members of the Amish community — Byler's husband, Andy, and other area residents — and multiple Pennsylvania State Police investigators involved in the case.

Despite the hours of testimony at the March 15 hearing, no motive for the alleged crime was presented either by those testifying or the Crawford County District Attorney's Office.

Cranston was represented by Gary A. Kern, the county's first assistant public defender, at the preliminary hearing.

On April 2, Emmi filed an entry of appearance to represent Cranston with the court, and on April 9, Kern filed a formal motion to withdraw from the case, according to court documents.

Cranston remains lodged in the Crawford County jail in Saegertown, awaiting trial. Cranston has been held at the jail without bond since his initial arraignment on the charges March 2. Homicide is a non-bondable offense in Pennsylvania.

Cranston was arrested the night of March 1 outside a store in Corry. Cranston had been identified as the suspect after an exhaustive five-day investigation following the slayings, according to state police.