Jury convicts Colorado man of trying to kill Murrysville police
A Westmoreland County jury took less than four hours Friday to find a Colorado man guilty of attempted murder and 14 other counts for his part in a shootout with Murrysville police last year.
Jesse Callender, 27, will be sentenced later by Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.
Callender was accused of firing three shots at two police officers who responded April 20, 2016 , to a call at Marathon Gas Stop 22 station on Route 22, where a store clerk claimed he was threatened by a man with a gun.
Jurors convicted Callender of one count for the attempted murder of Murrysville police Officer Matthew Mastorovich but found him not guilty of trying to kill officer Brian Sadlowe. Callender also was convicted of two counts each of aggravated assault and an assault of a police officer, seven charges of reckless endangerment and single counts of robbery, terrorist threats and illegal possession of a firearm.
As he left the courtroom Friday, Callender acknowledged he could be sentenced to a lengthy prison term, telling family members: “Goodbye. I’ll never see you ever again.”
District Attorney John Peck said Callender faces mandatory minimum sentences of 20 to 40 years in prison for each count of assaulting police officers.
Midway through the trial, Callender rejected a plea offer that would have required him to serve seven to 15 years in prison.
Police said Callender fired two shots at them when they arrived at the scene and a third as he attempted to retreat into the gas station. Peck argued Callender’s intent was clear.
“He wanted to kill those police officers. I don’t know why, all for $30 of gasoline,” Peck said in his closing argument to the jury.
During the four-day trial, the prosecution contended Callender became upset after he learned a scratch lottery ticket he purchased did not win and a prepaid credit card he attempted to use to buy gas had been declined.
Peck said Callender threatened the clerk with a gun if the gas pump was not activated.
A witness said Callender went out to his red van, got a gun and fired as police officers arrived. One shot from the .38-caliber revolver missed Mastorovich and struck a window at Dick’s Diner next door.
Mastorovich and Sadlowe returned fire and hit Callender three times, wounding him on his right thigh, abdomen and finger. The officers were not hit.
Callender claimed he got lost driving home from Maryland, where he visited his mother. He testified police shot at him first and that he did not remember returning fire.
Defense attorney Greg Cecchetti argued Callender did not intend to kill the officers and suggested the investigation was flawed because evidence did not support the allegation that police fired eight rounds at Callender. Cecchetti said they might have fired as many as 12 shots at his client.
“If you want to find him guilty, find him guilty of aggravated assault,” Cecchetti told jurors.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]