Monroeville man acquitted of all charges in attempted police murder case
Friends and family of a Monroeville man embraced and were deciding how to celebrate Friday night minutes after a Westmoreland County jury acquitted him of all charges in connection with a police shooting three years ago in Bell.
Joshua Jesse, 44, was found not guilty of attempted murder, aggravated assault and four counts of assault of law enforcement officials after a police chase ended in a gun battle in a grassy field near the Kiski River on Sept. 17, 2014.
“I am thankful for the verdict and thankful no one was hurt except for me. It has been a long road for us,” Jesse said outside of the courtroom.
“This was never meant to happen,” he said. “It was just a bad day.”
During the three-day trial, Westmoreland County prosecutors contended Jesse tried to kill police at the conclusion of the 22-mile chase, which started in Murrysville and ended in Bell.
Jesse was shot 10 times by police after a gun he held fired one time and did not strike any of the four officers who had cornered him.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck declined to comment about the verdict. The jury deliberated for about five hours.
But during closing arguments, Peck said Jesse was trying to force police to shoot him.
“Nothing stopped him from killing himself, but he didn’t have the guts to do it,” Peck said, “so he did the next best thing: he (attempted) ‘suicide by cop.’
“You can’t just shoot a police officer and expect nothing to happen because you were having a bad day.”
Jesse was sought by police under suspicion that he needed an involuntary mental health commitment.
Police found him at a Murrysville gas station and followed him for more than 20 miles before he drove down a dead-end road that abutted the river.
Witnesses said Jesse got out of his pickup with a gun at his side, threatened a police officer and fired one shot after being struck with a Taser.
The first four police officers on the scene fired 26 rounds, hitting Jesse 10 times.
The defense contended that Jesse was a troubled man who never intended violence that day but found himself dealing with the aftermath of a fight with his wife and potentially suicidal feelings.
Jesse did not testify during the trial.
His wife, Janeen Jesse, told jurors that she feared for his life after their argument and called police to help.
She testified she spoke with her husband via cell phone during the police chase.
“I pleaded with him to just pull over, to stop,” she testified.
Defense attorney Jeff Monzo argued that Joshua Jesse, who had no prior criminal record and a stellar reputation in the community, did not intend to hurt anyone.
Monzo suggested that Jesse didn’t purposely fire his gun and that his arm involuntary rose and the gun discharged after he was struck with the Taser.
“A verdict for Josh is not a verdict against the police officers,” Monzo said. “He didn’t intend to hurt anyone, and he didn’t hurt anyone.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].