Frightened witness may balk at testifying in murder trial
A key prosecution witness is having second thoughts about testifying in the trial of three Mt. Lebanon High School classmates accused of killing a 19-year-old West End man.
Anthony Brownlee has heard second- or third-hand reports that he could be harmed if he testifies in the case, his lawyer, Jon C. Botula, said yesterday.
“He’s a very, very frightened young man, and justifiably so,” Botula said.
Jury selection is set to begin in Erie today in the trial of two former Duquesne University football players, Craig Elias, 23, and Jared Lischner, 22, and a third man, Jared Henkel, 21. They are accused of kidnapping and killing Andrew Jones on March 22, 2001, after blaming Jones and Brownlee for the disappearance of $5,000 the trio had stashed in a safe in a Mt. Washington row house.
The case became a media sensation partly because Lischner and Elias are former Duquesne football players and partly because all three of the accused graduated from prestigious Mt. Lebanon High.
Earlier this year, after lawyers for the three suspects complained of excessive media coverage, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning chose to have an out-of-county jury hear the case.
The state Supreme Court recently determined the jury would be selected in Erie County.
Jurors are to be brought for the trial to Manning’s court in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown.
Botula declined yesterday to elaborate on the exact nature of the alleged threats, or on who reported them to Brownlee, of Green Tree. He said the threats are serious enough that Brownlee is considering refusing a summons to testify.
Manning told Botula yesterday he wants to know by Oct. 6 whether Brownlee is going to testify. The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 14. Manning told Brownlee he could be held in contempt and sent to jail if he refuses to testify.
Brownlee testified at a coroner’s inquest in April 2002 that he and Jones were bound and beaten by the three men as Lischner, Elias and Henkel interrogated them for several hours about the missing money. Brownlee testified that at least one of the men hit him on the knee with a hammer during the ordeal at the row house.
Brownlee testified that he escaped after the three men released him so he could retrieve more than $4,000 he had stashed elsewhere.
“He came close to getting killed once,” Botula said. “He’s a very, very lucky young man.”
Jones’ body was recovered April 12, 2001, from the Ohio River near Steubenville, Ohio. His body had been placed in garbage bags, wrapped with a chain and had a 50-pound weight attached to it. The coroner’s office determined he died of asphyxiation.
Prosecutors have other witnesses.
Matthew Henkel, Jared Henkel’s brother, testified at the coroner’s inquest that he helped dispose of Jones’ body, and that at least one of the three men made incriminating statements.
Brownlee testified to being the last man to see Jones alive.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Merrick said that Brownlee’s inquest testimony could be read into the record at trial if he refuses to take the stand.
Bruce Antkowiak, a law professor at Duquesne University, said defense lawyers seek to have such readings excluded if they can prove that the defense did not have sufficient opportunity to cross-examine a witness at an earlier hearing.