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The man charged with killing a Derry Township woman in her home on July 20 was ordered held for trial Friday in a hearing closed to the public.
Even suspect Nathan Joseph Quidetto, 20, of Unity waited outside District Judge Mark Bilik’s tiny Derry Township courtroom during the hearing. Emily Smarto, Quidetto’s defense attorney, said her client waived his right to be present during the hearing, opting to wait outside with sheriff’s deputies.
It all was aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.
The number of people attending a hearing was limited to investigators, a witness, attorneys and two family members of 52-year-old Tracy Marie Squibb, who was fatally shot as she slept in her Derry Township home by a shot fired from outside the home.
Bilik said he was opting for safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We just thought for the safety of everyone in the courtroom,” he said.
He discussed the move ahead of time with President Judge Rita Donovan Hathaway, who said she agreed with the decision to limit the number of family members who could attend.
“I didn’t mean that to apply to the press,” she said.
Hathaway planned to address the situation with the county’s district judges and district court administrator to ensure press access to future preliminary hearings where space and the number of those present might be a concern, she said. That might mean getting creative through a teleconference or some other means.
“We would allow the press in in some manner,” she said.
A series of safety measures have been added in all of Westmoreland County’s courtrooms as judges grapple with decisions that go beyond the outcome of a case. An emergency declaration shut down court operations for weeks. In May, judges’ schedules started resuming amid Plexiglass barriers. Bilik likened the Plexiglass surrounding his bench to being inside a fish bowl.
“Right now, we’re trying to keep everyone safe,” Hathaway said.
Safety looks different across the county’s 16 district court buildings. Some require defendants and other participants to wait outside the building until a case is called. Others have doors locked and require anyone visiting the court to call and seek permission to come inside. Some buildings are smaller than others.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said courts should remain accessible to the press during the pandemic. Other courts have used live or remote video or phone conference to allow access to hearings, she said.
“Covid doesn’t erase the First Amendment,” she said. “I think they were wrong to shut you out.”
Quidetto is being held without bond in the Westmoreland County Prison, where inmates have tested positive for the virus.
The arresting trooper and a citizen testified during the 30 minute hearing, Bilik said.
State police accuse Quidetto of shooting into the Squib home on Pandora Road around 4 a.m. in apparent retaliation over a drug deal gone wrong. He told investigators he fired several rounds in the direction of the house and then fled, according to court papers.
Police said Quidetto had the wrong house and no one living there was his target. Squib was sleeping in her bed when she believed she’d been bitten by something, police said. She was bleeding from her upper chest and died at a hospital. Her husband and two children were home at the time and not hurt.
Quidetto was ordered to stand trial on homicide, discharging a firearm into an occupied structure, carrying a firearm without a license and reckless endangerment charges.
Smarto said she asked for the homicide charge to be dismissed. Testimony during the hearing did not show that he intended to kill someone there, she said.
“It was just random shots,” she said.
The Tribune-Review has requested a copy of the recording of the hearing.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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