PITTSBURGH – Three former co-workers of a Bullskin Township man told a federal jury Tuesday that he talked about using a stun gun on his pregnant ex-girlfriend to kill his unborn child.
Michael Franchock, Paul Serwonski and Art Shincovich – all employees of the Elliott Co. in Jeannette – testified that Joseph P. Minerd had indicated that he wanted to have a broken stun gun repaired in order to cause Deana Mitts to have a miscarriage.
Minerd, 46, has been charged in the New Year’s Day 1999 firebombing of Mitts’ Connellsville townhouse, which killed Mitts, her 3-year-old daughter and her unborn child.
Franchock said Minerd gave the stun gun to the maintenance department to see if it could be fixed. He said that Minerd told him the baby wasn’t his and he believed it was a “black baby.”
After hearing the remark about hitting Mitts in the stomach with the gun, Franchock told Serwonski about Minerd’s plans for the gun. Serwonski testified that he saw the stun gun sitting on a table in the machinery repair department. Serwonski also told the jury that Minerd didn’t believe Mitts’ baby was his.
Shincovich, who repairs machine tools at Elliott, testified that he worked on the stun gun for Minerd in August 1998. He and one of his colleagues took the gun apart and found a few components they recognized. After checking the gun out for 45 minutes, Shincovich said he left the gun in pieces because it was the end of the day.
He also told the jury that Serwonski told him not to fix it because Minerd planned on using it to shock his ex-girlfriend into a miscarriage. He told Minerd it couldn’t be fixed and disposed of the parts the next day.
Defense attorney Jay McCamic argued that a lot of rough talk goes on at Elliott and sometimes bad comments are made that aren’t meant to be serious, but Franchock maintained that there’s a difference between joking and a serious problem.
“Joe had serious problems that he brought to almost every person at that plant,” said Franchock.
Daniel Boeh, a group supervisor with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), testified that he was present during a search of Minerd’s home on April 16, 1999, when a receipt from the plumbing department at Brilhart’s Hardware in Scottdale was recovered. The receipt indicated that one item at $5.59 was purchased and two items at $3.29 were purchased.
He, along with Michael Hanley, an auditor with ATF, were a part of the ATF team that went to the store to attempt to discover what was purchased.
Hanley testified that an inventory of plumbing items revealed that 18 items from the department were priced at $5.59, including an 8-inch pipe nipple similar to the one used in the device, and 29 items at $3.29, including 2-inch end caps, also similar to the ones used for the device.
Lt. Detective Thomas Cesario of the Connellsville Police Department testified that when he arrived at the townhouse on McCormick Avenue on Jan. 1, 1999, it was fully engulfed in flames. He spoke to other tenants to get their impressions on what occurred and then, after finding out that Minerd was the father of Mitts’ baby, left to notify him of the incident. Although he did have a discussion with Minerd, Cesario said his main objective was to notify him of the deaths. Cesario believed Minerd was stunned at the news.
“It (his face) was blank. I took it to be that he was in shock,” said Cesario.
He added that his expression really didn’t change the whole time he was there until friends showed up after hearing about the incident. Cesario indicated that at that time Minerd broke down and embraced his friends.
Cesario was also present when Robert Miller, a special agent with ATF, interviewed Minerd at his workplace on April 16 – the same day the police raided his Bullskin Township home. Although Cesario observed the session, he told the jury that it was Miller’s interview. Minerd told Miller that on Dec. 31 he went to Greensburg to purchase saw blades, went to his nephew’s house to help fix a kerosene heater, went home to change and then returned later that night for a New Year’s Eve party. On New Year’s Day, Minerd told them he went to his brother Earl’s house around 11:30 a.m. for dinner and didn’t return home until around 8:15 p.m.
Frances Grimm and Paul Haas – neighbors of Minerd’s – testified to hearing an explosion sometime in the fall which may or may not have come from Minerd’s property.
“I was watching TV and I heard a loud noise. It sounded like an explosion,” said Grimm.
After checking her hot water heater and going out on the porch to listen for sirens, Grimm returned to her home. She did not call the police.
Although the defense tried to stress that the sound may have sounded like a gunshot, Grimm and Haas were adamant that it sounded more like an explosion.
“It was definitely not a gunshot,” stated Haas.
Testimony in the case resumes at 9 a.m. today.