Police release photo of South Strabane homicide, robbery suspect
Police combed an area near Interstates 70 and 79 on Monday and asked the public’s help to find a suspect who robbed a South Strabane bank and shot and killed a man who jumped into the suspect’s car in an attempt to capture him.
The suspect, who police have not identified, killed Vincent Kelley, 46, of Washington. Kelley tried to subdue the man as he fled the Citizens Bank branch in the Strabane Square Giant Eagle. Police released a surveillance photo of the suspect, who wore a dark-colored vest, dark pants with a white stripe down the side, mask and floppy straw hat. He is about 6 feet tall with a thin build.
“We’re hoping someone might recognize the clothing and connect it to someone they know,” South Strabane police Detective Ken Torboli said. “Our goal is to get this guy off the streets as soon as possible. He’s obviously very dangerous.”
Police are searching for a white, four-door sedan but did not release a license plate number. Kelley reached for a knife he carried as he tried to stop the robber, said friend and witness Jared Cameron. Police have not confirmed whether Kelley had a knife or reached for one, but the possibility raises a question of whether the robber, if caught and charged with murder, can claim self-defense, lawyers and experts said.
“It’s an unbelievably weak one,” Downtown defense attorney Lea Bickerton said. “Even if they would try to use the stand-your-ground doctrine, you would have to be acting in a way in accordance with the law.”
A judge would likely not allow a jury to consider self-defense in this case, said Marty Hayes, the president of the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network and an expert witness on the issue. The robber started the violence and cannot use self-defense to exonerate himself of its likely outcome, a death, Hayes said.
However, Kelley used force in an attempt to reclaim property, which the law prohibits, Wesley Oliver, director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Duquesne School of Law, wrote in an email.
That opens the possibility of a self-defense argument, but a jury likely would not consider the robber a sympathetic victim, according to Oliver.
A judge would decide whether such a defendant has a credible claim to self-defense, said Matthew Mangino, a defense attorney and former district attorney in Lawrence County. If a judge rules the robber can claim self-defense, then the prosecution must prove the killing was not self-defense.
“It’s not completely out of the realm of possibly that someone accused of a crime could claim self-defense on someone intervening as a good Samaritan,” Mangino said. He cited a similar case recently in New Mexico that ended in a hung jury on manslaughter charges for a man accused of killing another man who tried to stop a domestic dispute. “In this case, I think he has some hurdles to get over.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or [email protected]. Staff Writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report.