Man faces trial in Oakland killing


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Zachary Sheridan was running away across Forbes Avenue when Isiah Smith chased him for at least two steps, aimed a gun and shot him in the back in front of surveillance cameras near the Dunkin' Donuts.

Seconds later, Mr. Sheridan, 24, of Brookline raised his arm to his wounded neck and chest. About 15 minutes later, he died in UPMC Presbyterian.

Such was the testimony Friday of Pittsburgh homicide detective James R. Smith, who spoke about surveillance images and witness testimony collected during the investigation of the death of Mr. Sheridan, a former Slippery Rock University football player.

Isiah Smith, 22, of Lincoln-Lemington was ordered to stand trial Friday on charges of homicide, assault by physical menace and reckless endangerment after District Judge Dennis Joyce heard more than an hour of testimony from the detective and from a witness.

The surveillance images described by Detective Smith and entered into evidence present a new wrinkle in the defense's argument that Mr. Smith fired in self-defense. Also presented Friday was testimony that Mr. Smith's description of events changed over the course of his two interviews with police, one of which was videotaped.

When he sat in the North Side police headquarters about 9:30 p.m. the night of the shooting -- after the news had aired images from the scene and after his mother and brother encouraged him to contact police -- Mr. Smith told a detective that he and two other men were gathered at his friend's home when he received a call from his uncle saying that his uncle's girlfriend, Rhonda Hall, was going to call him later and ask for $50, which he should give her.

Mr. Smith and his friends were at Whim Nightclub when Ms. Hall called Mr. Smith and he told her to meet them at the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland, he told police. They were inside eating french fries when Ms. Hall walked in and told them that three men -- later identified as Mr. Sheridan and his friends -- were bugging her for a ride.

Mr. Smith told Ms. Hall to find him if the men were still outside and giving her trouble when she tried to walk to her car.

Moments after she left, she began banging on the window to capture Mr. Smith's attention, according to the detective's recounting of Mr. Smith's interview.

Mr. Smith's defense attorney, Blaine Jones, said after the hearing and insinuated during some of his questioning that Ms. Hall told him she "felt threatened" by the men and that at least one of them had made vulgar remarks to her.

During his first interview with police, Mr. Smith said he attempted to extend a handshake to Mr. Sheridan's friend, Nicholas Rotunda, "in friendship," but Mr. Rotunda would not return the gesture, Detective Smith testified. After being informed that police had conflicting information from witnesses, Mr. Smith admitted to showing a gun, the detective said.

Both parties agree that a scuffle then ensued. Testimony provided by Detective Smith and by Chad Keller, who was with Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Rotunda, indicates that Mr. Smith pushed Mr. Rotunda and that Mr. Sheridan then intervened and punched Mr. Smith twice.

"Mr. Sheridan punched Mr. Smith with a closed fist to the face twice," Mr. Jones said, noting that his client required several stitches, had several lumps on his head and was diagnosed with a concussion that Mr. Jones said affected his client's memory.

Mr. Smith got up, according to testimony, and then pulled out a gun.

During one of the interviews, Detective Smith asked Mr. Smith why he fired the fatal shot. The detective testified, "His answer to me was 'My mind was set and I started shooting.' "

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.


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