WEST GOSHEN >> A preliminary hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a Delaware County man for trial in Common Pleas Court on charges that he shot and killed a West Chester high school student in an apparent road rage incident has been postponed.
The hearing, which was scheduled to be held in Magisterial District Judge William Kraut’s courtroom Thursday at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Goshen, has been continued until Aug. 17, according to a prosecution spokesman.
The continuance came at the request of defense attorney Daniel McGarrigle of Media, who is representing defendant David Andrew Desper of Trainer, Delaware County. The request was not unexpected, and was not opposed by the count District Attorney’s Office. McGarrigle declined to discuss why he requested the continuance.
Desper, 28, is charged with first- and third-degree murder, possession of an instrument of crime, and recklessly endangering another person in the death of 18-year-old Bianca Roberson, who had recently graduated from Bayard Rustin High School. He is being held without bail in Chester County Prison.
West Goshen police, who investigated the case with Chester County Detectives, say that they began the investigation when a one-car accident was reported around 5:30 p.m. June 28 on the Route 100 spur, west of Route 202. Police found Roberson, the driver, dead at the scene in a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu that had veered off the highway into a ditch.
When an autopsy was conducted, however, the cause of death was discovered to be a single gunshot wound to the head.
Investigators then went back and examined surveillance camera footage from the scene, and saw Roberson’s car jockeying for position with a red pickup truck as the two lanes of the highway merged into one before entering Route 202. They announced the murder at a press conference June 29, and released photos of the pickup as it sped from the scene in asking the public for assistance in locating the unidentified driver.
In the days that ensued, a nationwide manhunt got underway for the driver and the Chevrolet pickup truck. At 2 a.m. July 2, Desper surrendered at the McGarrigle’s office after leaving the pickup, with its keys in the door lock, in the driveway of a house in Glen Mills.
Police were able to use a fragment of the bullet that killed Roberson to identify the murder weapon as a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun. After identifying Desper as the owner of the pickup, investigators went to his home in Trainer, where they found the alleged murder weapon in a bedroom, and unused ammunition in a trash can outside the home, according to an arrest affidavit filed by West Goshen Detective Jose Torres, a former state trooper, and Chester County Detective Ben Martin, who came to the DA’s Office from East Pikeland police.
Desper had purchased the gun legally in 2015, and had a permit to carry it — which means he could legally have it in his vehicle while he drove.
The case has been preassigned to Common Pleas Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft. The prosecutors handling the case are Assistant District Attorneys Charles “Chad” Maloney and Christopher Miller.
A preliminary hearing is the second step in court proceedings for an accused person, after their preliminary arraignment when they are informed of the charges being leveled against them. In the hearing, the prosecution puts on evidence that it believes will establish a “prima facie” case against the accused — that is, enough evidence to show that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is likely to be the person who committed it.
The amount of evidence needed is rather low, and great leeway is given to the prosecution as to how to present it — hearsay evidence normally not allowed during a trial is permitted, for instance. The magisterial judge is asked to determine whether there is probable cause to hold the defendant on the individual charges, and to send the case to Common Pleas Court.
In Chester County, those defendants who waive their right to a preliminary hearing are in many cases given more favorable plea offers by the DA’s Office than those who do not. It is unknown whether Desper will decide to waive his preliminary hearing and take his chance at the Common Pleas level, or go ahead with the hearing, as he is entitled to do. “It’s too soon to comment on that,” MCGarrigle said Tuesday.
The father of the victim, Rodney Roberson of Westtown, has stated that his family intends to attend the preliminary hearing, and has said he wanted to confront Desper: “What gave you the right?,” Rodney Roberson said he would ask the defendant. “What made you think it was all right to take my daughter?” Family members of victims however, are rarely given the opportunity to address a defendant at such proceedings.
If he is eventually convicted of first-degree murder — an intentional killing committed with malice — Desper faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.