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Police: Man killed daughters, wife, set fire to residences

June 4, 2012

Trooper John Matchik (center), public information officer for Pennsylvania State Police Troop A, discusses a triple homicide that occurred Friday evening at locations in both East Mahoning and South Mahoning Townships. Looking on are (back, from left) Sgt. Ryan Maher, Troop A-Greensburg; Lt. Paul DeStefano, Troop A criminal investigation section commander; and Michael Baker, Indiana County coroner. (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

INDIANA — A South Mahoning Township man who allegedly killed his two daughters and estranged wife also tried to burn down the two residences in which the murders occurred, police said Monday.

Lewis Beatty, 40, South Mahoning Township, faces three counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of his two daughters, Amanda, 11, and Sara, six, and his estranged wife, Christine Beatty, 33, Friday.

During a press conference Monday, Trooper John Matchik, public information officer for Troop A, Indiana, said, "This is truly an unconscionable type of crime, one with circumstances so profound and tragic that it is absolutely heartbreaking."

Police said they were notified of a fire at Beatty's Morrow Road residence around 7:15 p.m. Friday, but did not yet realize what was yet to be found at the residence of Christine Beatty along Pfeiffer Road, East Mahoning Township.

Matchik said the Beattys were separated, but had "a verbal agreement" about custody of the girls, Amanda, an adopted daughter, and Sara, the couple's biological child.

Police said Beatty first used a hunting knife to cut the throat of Sara while she slept in the lower part of a bunk bed at the Morrow Road home. While waiting for Amanda to return home, Beatty killed three different animals — a dog, a goat and a pony — at the residence.

When Amanda did arrive home, Beatty used the same hunting knife to cut her throat in the living room of the house, police said.

Afterward, Beatty then traveled to Plumville, where he bought a soft drink at a convenience store and then tried to add his mother's name to an account at First Commonwealth Bank, police said.

Police said when that attempt to change the account failed, Beatty then drove to Marion Center, where he waited until he was sure his wife had departed from her job at Marion Center Bank.

Police said Beatty followed his wife to her rented mobile home along Pfeiffer Road, and that they spoke briefly at the door before Beatty strangled her until she was unconscious and then cut her throat with one of two kitchen knives found near her body.

Beatty then set the home on fire, returned to his residence on Morrow Road and used newspapers, blankets and clothing to set fires at four different points inside, police said.

Police said Beatty was trapped inside the house after he set the fires, and neighbors told police they heard loud booms coming from the house and saw that it was on fire.

A neighbor rescued Beatty through a rear window, and he was treated for cuts on his arms and smoke inhalation at the scene, police said.

Matchik said it is unclear if the injuries to Beatty's arms were self-inflicted or came as a result of the neighbor pulling him from the fire.

Police said Beatty was also treated and released from Indiana Regional Medical Center and into the custody of police. He was arraigned early Saturday and committed to the Indiana County jail without bond.

Matchik said police executed search warrants on both residences to look for blood, tissue, clothing and possibly other weapons.

In terms of a motive, Matchik said he knew only that the Beattys had been separated, but not for how long.

"The investigation will include interviews with family members to develop any more information," he said.

The three knives involved in the alleged homicides were sent to the PSP Crime Lab in Erie for testing, Matchik said, and the bodies were sent to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office in Pittsburgh for autopsies.

Indiana County Coroner Michael Baker said the burns on the girls' bodies were post-mortem, because they had been killed before the fire at their home.

Indiana County District Attorney Pat Dougherty said his office would continue to review information from the investigation before considering seeking the death penalty for Beatty.

He thanked the police, detectives and firefighters for their work, and acknowledged that the weekend had been tragic and challenging.

"We were all pretty shaken Friday night," Dougherty said. "I'm not afraid to say that."

A preliminary hearing for Beatty is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.

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