Matthew Buchholz and Sarah Wolfe had been together about eight months after meeting in May 2013 on an online dating site.
So, on Feb. 7, 2014, when Sarah, 38, didn’t show up for work at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, her colleague sent Mr. Buchholz a message asking if he could check on her. He immediately drove to her home on Chislett Street to see if she was there. As he was knocking on the door, a Pittsburgh police officer arrived to check on Susan Wolfe, Sarah’s sister, because she had not shown up at work as a teacher’s aide at the Hillel Academy in Squirrel Hill that day.
“It was not like either one of them not to show up,” he said.
After Mr. Buchholz drove to his nearby home to get a spare key, he and the officer went inside. First, Mr. Buchholz glanced in the living room and saw nothing. Then, he noticed that the basement door was ajar. He stuck his head down the steps.
“I just saw a pair of bare legs in the basement,” he testified Monday. “I immediately pulled back and shouted for the officer.”
As he turned to run out of the home and collapse on the front porch, he continued, Mr. Buchholz noticed the table in the entryway was broken, and there was blood on the walls. He alternated, he said, between numbness and sobbing.
“All I ever saw was a pair of legs.”
Mr. Buchholz was the first of five witnesses called by the prosecution on Monday in the opening day of trial for Allen Wade. The 45-year-old is charged with two counts of criminal homicide, burglary, robbery, theft and related charges.
The trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Borkowski is expected to last about three weeks. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
During the afternoon, Kenneth Clark, the forensic pathologist who conducted the Wolfe sisters’ autopsies, testified, telling the jury that both victims died of a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. Susan Wolfe, 44, who was found naked and prone in front of the washer and dryer, also sustained seven blunt trauma strikes to the back of her head.
Sarah Wolfe, who was found clothed and with a comforter covering her face, had some injuries to her extremities but not the severe wounds to her head.
During opening statements on Monday morning, assistant district attorney William Petulla outlined the prosecution’s case.
“The commonwealth is going to prove its case through the blunders and mistakes of Allen Wade — through time, math and science,” the prosecutor said. “All roads lead back to Allen Wade.”
Police believe that Susan was killed first, and that Sarah was killed when she returned home later.
Mr. Petulla described in brutal detail the savage beating endured by Susan Wolfe, telling the jury that the steps and walls of the home’s unfinished, “dungeon-like” basement were smeared in blood, like a “sinister and sadistic and vulgar tapestry.”
But, he continued, “As vulnerable as Susan Jeanette Wolfe was, she didn’t go down without a fight. Whether through a clutch, a scratch, a grab, she reached out to her attacker that night, and she got DNA from him under her nails.”
It was the DNA of Wade, their next-door neighbor, which had not been masked by bleach and detergent poured on the scene.
“If this was the first mistake Allen Wade made, it was far from the last.”
Mr. Petulla showed the jury a map of the neighborhood, showing where, he said, he believes Wade drove Sarah Wolfe’s car near the Carnegie Library’s East Liberty branch and parked at 12:32 a.m., and then a few minutes later, when he walked past the security cameras of an apartment complex on Highland Avenue, before walking to a Citizens Bank branch where he used Sarah Wolfe’s ATM card to take out $600. The prosecutor showed the jurors where police believe Wade removed his sweatpants and left them near a Midas muffler shop and later when they said that same man went to a Sunoco station to buy cigarettes and threw away a pen with the words “Iowa Prison Industries.”
The sisters grew up in Clinton, Iowa.
Later, when police found the sweatpants, Mr. Petulla said, there was a business card with them with the name of a UPMC social worker on it. Susan Wolfe was one of his clients, the prosecutor continued. A knit cap was found nearby, as well. And near there, a pair of socks.
“Each one of these items has Allen Wade’s DNA on them,” the prosecutor said, noting that the socks also had trace amounts of Susan Wolfe’s DNA on them.
But defense attorney Lisa Middleman, in her opening, told the jury that the computer program linking her client’s DNA to the crime, TrueAllele, should not be trusted.
The Allegheny County crime lab purchased the program from Mark Perlin’s Oakland company, Cybergenetics, years ago, Ms. Middleman said, but still does not use it.
“This man will not tell anyone, precisely, how this program works,” she said. Dr. Perlin will not release its source code.
“The Allegheny County crime lab won’t use it. They won’t use it, but you’re supposed to?” she asked. “In a murder case? If he can’t explain to you in a clear, concise manner, what the results are, and how he arrived at them, you should reject them.”
Ms. Middleman said she’d show “the horrible folly of developing a theory and trying to force your evidence to fit that theory.”
Prosecutors were so determined to make its evidence fit Wade, she continued, that they ignored things.
“You will hear, generally, about a lack of integrity in the prosecution’s case,” Ms. Middleman said. “You will hear a story of sloppy investigation and contamination — both at the scene and at the crime lab.”
The defense attorney discounted the prosecution’s video evidence, saying that the suspect at the ATM was unidentifiable because he was covered from head to toe in clothing, and that in another video, the suspect appears to be white.
She believed there was pressure on detectives because the victims were white, employed women from an influential family.
“They needed an arrest, and they got one,” she said.
Ms. Middleman told the jury that her client has an alibi — that he was home that night, sitting on the couch, with his sleeping girlfriend’s head in his lap. It was also not a robbery, she said, as jewelry, electronics and prescription drugs were left behind.