A Bucks County man charged with murdering a Newtown Borough police officer waived his preliminary hearing before it could begin yesterday, and was taken from district court before the prosecution arrived.
The move prompted the district attorney to call for a repeat process in open court.
Robert Anthony Flor, 38, of Bedminster Township, is charged with the fatal shooting of Officer Brian S. Gregg at St. Mary Medical Center on Sept. 29.
After arresting him in Newtown for drunken driving, Gregg and fellow Officer James Warunek had taken Flor to the Middletown Township hospital for blood and urine tests. When Flor's handcuffs were removed to take samples, he grabbed Warunek's .357-caliber revolver from its holster and began firing, witnesses said.
Flor also faces charges of attempted murder in the shootings of Warunek, in the chest, and emergency-room technician Joseph Epp, in the shoulder.
The shootings stunned the small borough of Newtown, where Gregg was beloved as a personable, friendly cop who knew residents by name. Several thousand people, mostly uniformed officers from throughout the region, attended his funeral.
Warunek and Epp were prepared yesterday to testify against Flor at an 11 o'clock hearing before Magisterial District Judge John J. Kelly Jr. in Levittown. But Flor had already signed the waiver and left by about 10:40, less than 10 minutes before the district attorney arrived.
Defendants often waive their right to a preliminary hearing, where prosecutors must show the judge they have enough evidence to take a case to trial. Bucks County District Attorney Diane E. Gibbons plans to prosecute the case herself and will seek the death penalty, she said.
But Gibbons said it was "unusual" to let a murder defendant waive his preliminary hearing without the prosecuting attorney, witnesses, or family members present.
"We were entitled to hear how clear his mind is," she said. "They have a right to see every part of the proceedings."
Flor's attorney, public defender Peter C. Hall, did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.
The closed session could have made it easier for Flor to appeal the waiver later by saying he did not know what he was signing at the time, Gibbons said.
"Every minutiae will be challenged on appeal," she said. "We have to fix this."
Gibbons said she would file a motion with Bucks County Court of Common Pleas asking that Flor re-sign the waiver in open court in front of witnesses. A trial likely would not be scheduled until next year, she said.
Flor is being held without bail at Bucks County Prison.