The defense attorney for the East Pittsburgh police officer charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager said Tuesday he plans to seek approval to bring in a jury from a different county for the homicide case.
A trial is scheduled for Feb. 26.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani gave defense attorney Patrick Thomassey until Sept. 25 to file the motion for a change of venire, but Thomassey said after Tuesday’s pre-trial conference that he’ll have the motion filed in a matter of days.
His client, Michael Rosfeld, is charged with one count of homicide in the June 19 fatal shooting of Antwon Rose II as he ran from a felony traffic stop. The shooting sparked weeks of protests across Allegheny County.
“There’s been so much consternation in this city,” Thomassey said. “We’ve had tie-ups of traffic, there have been people attacked, people pulled out of cars — it’s gotten a lot of attention. I mean, they picketed a judge’s home, and people in this county, I think, would be afraid to sit on a jury in this case.”
Thomassey also filed a motion Tuesday asking Mariani to recuse himself in light of comments he made in the aftermath of the shooting. Mariani appears in a regular segment on PCNC’s NightTalk called “Sidebar with Judge Mariani.”
In the segment, which aired June 21, Mariani “used words such as ‘Maybe he shot this man out of frustration’ and ‘Maybe the training wasn’t adequate,’” Thomassey said.
Thomassey questioned whether Mariani could remain impartial after having made those statements. Assistant District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons said he had no position on the motion.
Mariani said he has no plans to step aside. If he had thought he should once he found out the case had been assigned to him, “I’d have done so already,” he said.
The judge had indicated early in the hearing that he could change his mind if it turned out that defense counsel could immediately appeal the decision, as he said he did not want to cause any delay in the trial’s proceedings.
Mariani gave Thomassey until next week to decide whether he wants to revisit the motion to recuse with supporting evidence. If he does, that hearing will take place Sept. 21.
“It was my ethical obligation to file a motion because a judge made comments on a case that’s before him. He denied that motion, so you’ve just got to move on,” Thomassey said after the hearing. “We might revisit (the motion), we may not.”
Rosfeld, 30, was charged June 27. He waived his right to a formal arraignment Aug. 22 and did not appear in court on that date. Rosfeld is free on electronic monitoring after posting $250,000 unsecured bond in the hours after his arrest.
Rose was a passenger in a car suspected in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier on June 19 in nearby North Braddock. Police say the car had gunshot damage to its rear window, likely from the earlier shooting. As Rosfeld ordered the jitney driver to the ground, Rose and backseat passenger Zaijuan Hester fled on foot, authorities said.
Witnesses and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. contend that Rose got out of the passenger seat, briefly showed his hands and then turned and ran. Rosfeld shot Rose three times, the last being the fatal shot, officials said.
The Rose family filed a wrongful death lawsuit this month contending that Rosfeld used excessive and deadly force against the teenager when he should have waited for backup.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.