By Yamiche Alcindor and John Bacon, USA TODAY
A Pennsylvania woman could face years of prosecution and death sentences in multiple states if her claim that she has killed dozens of people are proven, experts said Monday.
Miranda Barbour, 19, is being held on charges of killing a man she met through Craigslist. She and her husband, Elytte Barbour, 22, are accused of stabbing and slashing Troy LaFerrara more than 20 times in November after he agreed to pay $100 to have sex with her.
Miranda Barbour, in a jailhouse interview with The Daily Item newspaper in Sunbury, Pa., said she had participated in dozens of slayings in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina and California over a six-year period.
Sunbury Police Chief Steve Mazzeo told USA TODAY on Monday that his department was reviewing the latest information and was in contact with "various state and federal agencies to determine the veracity" of Miranda Barbour's claims.
In a statement issued Sunday, the FBI's Philadelphia division said it had been in contact with Sunbury police and "will offer any assistance requested in the case."
Alison Triessl, a Los Angeles defense attorney whose WildAboutTrial.com site has posted stories on Barbour's case, warns that many people "confess" to multiple murders they did not commit. Barbour could be seeking attention because she has nothing to lose, Triessel said.
But if it's true, Barbour's lawyer could have a hard time keeping her jailhouse confession out of court, Triessl said. If authorities can match her timeline with missing persons reports, trials could follow. Lots of them.
"She could face multiple deaths sentences all over the country," Triessl said. "They will pursue prosecutions in each of the jurisdictions under the theory that each victim deserves justice."
Barbour would most likely be tried in Pennsylvania first, Triessl said. Other states could follow, and the federal government might step in if Barbour transported bodies across state lines or targeted people based on protected civil rights like race or origin.
Prosecutors in Pennsylvania are seeking the death penalty against both Barbours. Police have said that Elytte Barbour told investigators the couple committed the crime because they wanted to kill someone together. The couple married in North Carolina and moved to Pennsylvania about three weeks before LaFerrrara's murder.
Jules Epstein, a law professor who practices criminal law in Pennsylvania, said that in Pennsylvania, to be eligible for the death penalty, a person has to commit an intentional murder and have at least one aggravating factor in addition to the murder.
Aggravating factors can be that a killer tortured their victim, killed a child or a police officer or that the killer has a serious history of prior violent acts.
The Daily Item reported last week that Miranda Barbour said the couple killed LaFerrara, 42, and that she should be kept locked up because, if freed, she probably would kill again.
Barbour said she was sexually abused as a child and joined a satanic cult in Alaska when she was 13. Soon after, she said, the cult leader helped her pull the trigger when she killed a man she said owed the cult leader money.
"And then from there I just continued to kill," she told the newspaper.
She told the Daily Item she met LaFerrara in a mall parking lot before driving several miles to Sunbury. She said she considered letting him live, but changed her mind after she falsely told him she was 16.
"He told me that it was OK," she told the newspaper. "If he would have said no, that he wasn't going to go through with the arrangement, I would have let him go."
She is accused of stabbing LaFerrara 20 times as her husband strapped a cord around LaFerrara's neck from the back seat.
Miranda Barbour told the newspaper she participated in several slayings in Alaska and others in Texas, North Carolina and California. She said she "stopped counting" at 22 victims.
"I can pinpoint on a map where you can find them," she said.