Judge recuses himself from trial of Officer Rosfeld in killing of Antwon Rose
The judge assigned to the homicide trial for East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld recused himself from the case Wednesday, a week after saying he would not step aside.
Allegheny Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani stepped down from the case. Judge Alexander Bicket will take over the case, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Rosfeld faces one count of homicide in the June 19 killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II as he ran from a felony traffic stop. Rose was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
Mariani said during a hearing Wednesday that his decision came down to concerns over the appearance of impropriety. The judge said he wanted to err on the side of caution.
“The appearance of impropriety issue is a very broad brush, and it goes far beyond actual intent,” he said.
Both attorneys in the case — Patrick Thomassey for Rosfeld and Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons for the prosecution — have accused each other of unethical behavior, Mariani said. The judge did not want questions over his bias or impartiality to further cloud the case.
“The context is one that I think forces me into the position that I’m in,” he said.
Thomassey had asked Mariani to recuse himself in light of comments he made two days after the shooting. The judge appears in a regular segment on PCNC’s NightTalk called “Sidebar with Judge Mariani.”
Mariani was assigned to the case on Aug. 17.
In the segment, which aired June 21, Mariani “used words such as ‘Maybe he shot this man out of frustration’ and ‘Maybe the training wasn’t adequate,’” Thomassey said.
Thomassey had questioned whether Mariani could remain impartial after having made those statements, but Mariani said during a pre-trial conference on Sept. 11 that he had no plans to do so.
“I don’t think I am incapable of presiding over this case,” he said at the time. He said that if had, he’d have recused himself already by that point.
The hearing had initially been scheduled to hear arguments regarding a motion filed last week by Fitzsimmons requesting a gag order on the case, which would bar attorneys and witnesses from making any statements to the media.
That request had stemmed from Thomassey’s comments made after the Sept. 11 pre-trial conference, according to the motion.
“At various times … counsel for the defendant has made extrajudicial statements to members of the print, radio and television media that would tend to prejudice the trial process …” Fitzsimmons wrote in the motion.
Chief among the statements were those in which Thomassey alleged that prosecutors were “trying to hide something.”
Thomassey had begun to defend his statements before Mariani interjected with his recusal.
“All I did was reiterate what I said in court,” Thomassey said. He called it unfair to Rosfeld – “he has not said one word,” he said.
“He said I was trying to hide exculpatory evidence,” Fitzsimmons responded.
The hearing for the motion for the gag order has not been scheduled. The trial date remains set for Feb. 26.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.