Mother, son facing trial in burglaries

February 12, 2013
Pamela Cessna, left, and her son, Nicholas Cessna, face trial in three burglaries in Washington County. - Photos by Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A North Strabane Township mother and son were ordered Tuesday to stand trial for their alleged roles in three burglaries in three Washington County communities in December.

Pamela Cessna, 53, and her 21-year-old son, Nicholas Cessna, both of 57 Hothouse Lane, are accused of burglaries at homes in North Strabane, South Strabane and Somerset townships. Jewelry valued at about $75,000 and at least one gun were stolen from the homes.

During Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, District Judge Jay Weller had to twice warn Pamela Cessna for her remarks.

“The next time, I will remove you from the courtroom,” Weller told her. “Sitting here is a privilege.”

North Strabane police were investigating a break-in and theft of checks among other items from Four Seasons Landscaping, 30 Cessna Lane, when they learned that five of the checks had been cashed at two Allegheny County Walmart stores. Police contacted Jennifer Abraham and Robert Banfield, who had cashed the checks made out to them. Both testified that Pamela Cessna asked them to cash the checks for her because she could not due to previous bad checks she had written.

Banfield also testified that he told police he had been with the Cessnas when they went to several different businesses that buy and sell jewelry. He also had seen jewelry in the vehicle driven by Pamela Cessna as well as guns.

On at least one occasion, after selling jewelry, Banfield went with the Cessnas when they purchased stamp bags of heroin in Pittsburgh, according to testimony. Banfield said Nicholas Cessna also told him he had broken into a house. Nicholas Cessna remarked that he had a “big score” but did not elaborate on what he meant, Banfield testified.

Township police Lt. Dan Levi testified that he contacted the different businesses and learned that Pamela Cessna had made five different transactions to sell jewelry between Dec. 8 and 12. The Dec. 8 transaction took place at 4:45 p.m., almost 90 minutes before Rene Hudock and her husband discovered that their home at 48 Hothouse Lane had been burglarized.

Rene Hudock identified as hers several pieces of jewelry that had allegedly been sold by Pamela Cessna.

The Cessnas were initially charged Christmas Eve by township police with burglarizing the Hudock residence. Township police Officer Michael Lukanski testified that police had been given permission by Ray Cessna, the husband of Pamela and father of Nicholas, to search their home at 57 Hothouse Lane.

Lukanski said, during a protective sweep of the house, he found a table tray next to a futon in one of the bedrooms. On the tray were several pieces of drug paraphernalia.

The officer also found a large amount of jewelry scattered on the floor. Lukanski had been in contact with investigators in South Strabane about a house burglary they were investigating that was similar to the North Strabane break-in. The owner of the South Strabane home gave police a detailed list of what had been stolen.

“One piece of jewelry jumped out at me,” Lukanski said of the items found on a night stand at the Cessna home. “It was a charm bracelet, and the description of the charms was very detailed. One was from Disney and had been engraved ‘1999.’”

The owner, Nancy Scopel, identified the bracelet as well as other jewelry stolen from her home that was found at the Cessna residence.

Found outside the Cessna home was a sales receipt dated 1983 made out to Lawanda Yannacci for the purchase of jewelry. The Yannaccis reported their Somerset home had been burglarized Dec. 23.

Defense attorney Frank Arcuri, representing Pamela Cessna, argued that the evidence doesn’t connect his client to any of the crimes. Russ Korner, the public defender representing Nicholas Cessna, told Weller there was no direct testimony or evidence linking Cessna to anything.

“At best, all you have is receiving stolen property,” Korner added.

Michael Lucas, first assistant district attorney, countered that there was both direct and circumstantial evidence linking mother and son to multiple burglaries.

“You had them with items from the Hudock house within hours of the burglary,” Lucas said. “And they had a receipt from the Yannacci residence within a day of that burglary.”

Both face burglary and related charges. Pamela Cessna is also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia as well as forgery and bad checks for allegedly forging a signature on the checks stolen from the landscaping company.

The two remain in the Washington County jail on $100,000 bond.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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