Lehigh Valley

Suspect in beating death denied access to trial materials over witness safety concerns

Larry Yaw's attorneys have access to discovery

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A Lehigh County judge must decide whether the suspect accused in the beating death of a Whitehall Township man can have access to all the materials associated with his trial.

The attorneys for accused murderer Larry Yaw Jr. have access to all 700 pages of discovery in their client’s case, but Yaw himself has been denied copies of the material over prosecutor’s concerns about witness safety.

Authorities accuse the 33-year-old Montgomery County man of beating Brian Frank to death with a baseball bat inside Frank’s Whitehall Township apartment in the 900 block of Third Street. The attack happened on April 3, 2016, and authorities said Frank died the next day.

Investigators said Yaw was allegedly upset over a relationship a woman with whom he was living was having with the victim.

Yaw and his attorneys appeared before Lehigh County Judge Maria Dantos Thursday morning for arguments on pre-trial motions and to possibly set a trial date.

Prosecutors in September filed a motion for a protective order, which Dantos approved four days after it was filed. The order prevented then defense attorney James Connell from giving discovery to Yaw.

The prosecution on Thursday reiterated its opposition to Yaw having access to discovery materials, citing concerns over the safety of witnesses and victims. Assistant District Attorney Michael Edwards told the judge that some of the witnesses may have their own legal issues and find themselves in Lehigh County Jail with Yaw.

He submitted into evidence a court order allowing authorities to intercept any correspondence from Yaw, a letter he sent, transcripts of three phone calls he made from county jail and a recording of one call he made.

Defense attorney Matthew Potts said Yaw is already aware of who may testify against him, so he doesn’t believe there are any safety issues. Yaw may have some “cognitive issues” that make reviewing the materials a laborious process, Potts told the judge. He said Yaw needs time to review discovery before his attorneys discuss it with him.

Dantos read aloud a brief expletive-laden portion of the letter in which Yaw allegedly wrote about kidnapping a witness’s brother and executing a witness.

“I’m sick of people testifying against me,” Dantos read from Yaw’s letter.

An agitated Yaw began addressing the judge directly. She warned him to quietly confer with counsel, who will, in turn, address the court.

“I’m not doing this,” Dantos said. But Yaw persisted.

“Can’t I talk to you for a minute your honor, sidebar,” Yaw said.

“You’re taking 1 percent of my communications and using them against me,” he said regarding the prosecution’s request to keep discovery from him.

Yaw eventually heeded the judge’s warning and conferred with attorneys Potts and Steven Mills. Potts said his client was concerned that prosecutors were using only three of hundreds of phone calls against him.

The rest of the hearing was relatively routine in nature with the defense arguing without testimony that the commonwealth failed to make its prima facie case at Yaw’s preliminary hearing. The prosecution countered by submitting a transcript of the hearing and a completed autopsy report.

The judge also set a budget for the defense, approving $2,500 for a private investigator and $5,000 each for a mental health expert and mitigation specialist. The defense is not to exceed the set amounts without first receiving court approval.

Potts and Mills were appointed as defense counsel in November. Potts told Dantos on Thursday they need time to prepare for trial.

The judge scheduled an April 6 status conference at which point she’s hoping to set a trial date.

The Lehigh County District Attorney's Office has announced it will seek the death penalty. Authorities charged Yaw with homicide, aggravated assault, burglary, kidnapping and illegal possession of a firearm.

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