Man charged in disappearance of Cassandra Gross appears in court, ex-wife testifies

More than 20 of Cassandra Gross’ family and friends filled a courtroom in Latrobe for Thomas Stanko’s preliminary hearing. A judge decided to send the case to trial.

Nine people testified. Gross’ mother spoke first. Stanko only whispered to his attorney.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE >>> $10,000 reward offered to help investigators find out what happened to Cassandra Gross

What happened to Cassandra Gross?

‘It’s hell living through it’: family wants answers 4 years after Cassandra Gross disappearance
‘It’s hell living through it’: family wants answers 4 years after Cassandra Gross disappearance

“It’s the biggest piece of the puzzle,” said George Boehme, Cassandra Gross’ cousin.

Gross’ family believes Thomas Stanko holds that piece.

“I may never get part of her, but I’ll get justice,” said Kathe Gross, Cassandra Gross’ mother.

About three weeks ago, investigators charged Stanko with criminal homicide, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. Those charges were filed about four and a half years after Gross disappeared.  Gross was last seen on April 7, 2018. He was arrested on unrelated gun charges a few days after her disappearance and has been in jail ever since.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE >>> Homicide charges filed 4 years after Cassandra Gross’ disappearance

“His time is up,” said Boehme.

A woman who found Gross’ dog wandering on the road on April 9, 2018, testified.

A trooper, who came across her burnt car while off duty on a motorcycle ride, answered questions for the Commonwealth as well.

Another trooper, who went to Stanko’s house on April 10 to serve a warrant on those unrelated gun charges, talked about getting into a foot pursuit with Stanko. He says Stanko ran out of the house carrying a yellow bag, and it looked like he was trying to dump out the bag as he ran. The trooper says they found a burnt object inside the bag. He described it as unrecognizable. Additional searches found 42 other burnt items similar to the one found in the bag.

The primary investigator on this case says Stanko went to a Med Express and told the doctor he fell out of a pine tree. This investigator said he spoke to the doctor who said Stanko’s injuries were inconsistent, and it appears rather that he had been burned. Photographs presented in court showed burns on Stanko’s face and a singed eyebrow.

Stanko’s ex-wife who had two protection from abuse orders against him gave emotional testimony during his preliminary hearing. She said Stanko told her: “He could kill me at any time, and no one would ever find me.”

“That’s what my daughter said he said to her,” said Kathe Gross. “And he also told her, ‘I’ll kill your mother. I’ll kill your father. I’ll kill your son.’”

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The defense asked the judge to dismiss the case and honed in on the fact that Gross’ body has never been found.

“This is a very difficult case on really both sides when you don’t have the remains of an individual that is presumed dead,” said Defense Attorney Marc Daffner. “Because not only does that hurt the Commonwealth who has to prove beyond a responsible doubt that a homicide occurred, but the defense doesn’t have an opportunity to contest forensics and manner and things like that.  It’s going to be difficult on both sides, and we’ll see what happens in Common Pleas Court.”

Gross’ family let out sighs of relief and some tears when the judge decided to move the case forward.

“It’s pure joy that after four and a half years of waiting,” said Boehme. “It’s going to be going to trial, and we’re all happy.”

Stanko pleaded not guilty. His formal arraignment is set for January 25.

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