Attorney for Michael Rosfeld says Allegheny County jury pool tainted
The defense attorney for the former East Pittsburgh police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed teenager in June argued Thursday that Allegheny County’s potential jury pool has been tainted by slanted and sensational news reporting.
“It is so clear that the coverage here has been prejudicial to the defendant,” Thomassey told Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket in requesting that an outside jury be used for the February trial of Michael Rosfeld.
Thomassey said a gag order imposed on attorneys, family members and witnesses has kept the public in the dark on important matters. He alleged that the teenager who was fatally shot, Antwon Rose II, was involved in an armed robbery in which he stole a gun the same day he was shot.
He also contended in requesting an outside jury that weeks of protests following Rose’s shooting could create fear for potential jurors in Allegheny County.
Rosfeld, 30, of Penn Hills, is charged with one count of homicide in the June 19 shooting death of Rose. A trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 27.
Daniel Fitzsimmons, chief trial deputy for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, told Bicket in court that he thought Thomassey was trying “to poison the jury pool.”
After Thursday’s hearing, the District Attorney’s Office said, “What transpired in court today cannot go unanswered and we will respond as appropriate under the rules of criminal procedure.”
It was not clear what rule or rules Thomassey may have violated.
Rose was a passenger in a car suspected in a drive-by shooting in North Braddock minutes before the deadly shooting in East Pittsburgh.
As Rosfeld ordered the driver to the ground, Rose and backseat passenger Zaijuan Hester ran from the car and Rosfeld opened fire, authorities said.
The homicide charge was filed a week later.
Thursday’s hearing came a week after Bicket posed questions to people who showed up for jury duty on Dec. 12, 13 and 14 whether they had heard, seen or read coverage of the Rose case.
Over the three days, 84 percent of the 217 potential jurors said they were aware of the case. Of those who had heard of it, 34 percent said they had a fixed opinion, and 17 percent of those with a fixed opinion said they could not be fair and impartial.
Thomassey called the numbers evidence that a jury should be picked from outside Allegheny County.
“This begs for us to go somewhere else to pick the jury,” he said.
Fitzsimmons argued that being aware of the case does not mean someone is unable to sit on the jury.
“My concern is that for no good reason … this decision is being ripped out of the hands of citizens of Allegheny County because there’s been a lot of media coverage,” he said.
Investigator Julie Stumbaugh, called as a witness by Thomassey, testified Thursday that 380 stories about the shooting and homicide charge appeared in local news media from the day of the shooting to Nov. 21.
“There is no way Mike Rosfeld can get a fair trial from a jury in this county,” said Thomassey, who introduced as evidence a 300-page binder filled with news clippings and Twitter discussions about the case.
Fitzsimmons said that evidence does not give a breakdown of the content, including whether it is factual or slanted.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.