By Steve Pope and Amanda Klein | March 22, 2019
Update, 9:10 p.m., Michael Rosfeld was found not guilty in the death of Antwon Rose.
Shortly after 4:30 p.m. jurors began deliberating the fate of former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, who is on trial for the June 19 shooting death of Antwon Rose as he fled from a car that police say was involved in a drive-by shooting minutes before that injured two men.
Earlier today Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket dismissed a white female juror who was a former librarian and whose father worked in law enforcement for 25 years. An alternate was selected to replace her. No reason has been provided for the switch.
Judge Bicket also lifted the gag order that has been in place since September.
While addressing reporters today Thomassey said, “Why didn’t they just stay in the car.” He added that “reasonable people stay in the car when they are stopped by police.
“Ask yourself this,” he said. “If Hester had been a better shot and these two guys are dead, that they did the drive-by with, and Mike Rosfeld does what happened on June 19, would they have charged him? He just shot a person who was involved in killing two people right up the road. I don’t think we’d be here. That’s just me.”
Thomassey justified Rosfeld’s actions in firing his pistol at the two men by saying, “If a person commits a violent felony and you have reason to believe the person is armed and running away, the law says you can shoot him,” he said. “He doesn’t have to point the gun at you or threaten you, because your duty as a police officer is to stop him from getting into the community and committing another felony.”
Testimony concluded with police use of force expert Clifford Jobe, who is also a retired Pennsylvania state trooper telling the jury, “I don’t know that he did anything wrong at all sir, he was following his training.”
Closing arguments started at about 1:30 p.m. Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi, a graduate of Wake Forrest University Law School, labeled Rose and Hester’s decision to run from the Chevy Cruze seconds after they were stopped by Rosfeld as “foolish.” Fodi added “Sometimes a teenager runs. Is it foolish? Yes. Does it deserve death? No.”
Fodi told jurors that Rosfeld made inconsistent statements as to why he fired the three shots that killed Rose.
Rosfeld was overheard by Patrick Shattuck, who testified he heard Rosfeld say shortly after the shooting, “Why did he do that, why did he take that out of his pocket?” Fodi then reminded jurors that Rosfeld told police and testified that he saw one of the men raise his arm and point what he thought was a handgun at him. “You can’t have it both ways,” he said.
Fodi argued that Rosfeld had other options other than firing his pistol, “Use your legs, use your backup that is right there. Do something besides take a life.”
Thomassey argued during his 35-minute closing argument that only Rosfeld was close enough to see what one of the two men did that caused him to fear for his life. He was able to establish that several witnesses who claimed they never saw either of the two men raise their hands were hundreds of yards away, or in the case of John Leach, was actually looking through a bush and didn’t have an unobstructed view.
He also emphasized to the jury that Rosfeld was only eight yards away from Rose when he fired. He then abruptly lifted one the guns that were admitted into evidence, pointed it at a wall and said, “About that far. About eight yards. Who had a better view.
Under the law, he doesn’t have to see a gun,” Thomassey said. “He thought he did, maybe he did, I don’t know.”
He also faulted Rose and Hester for running from the car. “If Rose and Hester did nothing wrong, why did they run?” You and I wouldn’t do that.” He then said, “They knew what they did, and they wanted to get away.”
Judge Bicket instructed the jury that they had several options to consider in deciding Rosfeld’s fate: first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney called Fodi’s argument “awesome” when she addressed reporters after the jury began deliberating.
“I miss my son, and he’s not here. Antwon wasn’t afforded the opportunity of a trial, even to defend himself. All of those rights were taken away from him by one person, and it wasn’t the jury in this court – it was an individual, she said referring to Rosfeld.
Steve Pope can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Amanda Klein can be contacted at email@example.com