Trial ordered in casino patron robberies

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A Braddock man smiled in court while investigators laid out the evidence accusing him of trying to rob three people he spotted at the Rivers Casino, twice following men to their Ross homes and once beating a man.

The preliminary hearing for Dustin Andrejco-Jones, 25, began in dramatic fashion Friday morning when the defendant told District Judge Hugh McGough he wanted to "fire the public defender's office" for providing inadequate representation.

The judge denied his request, saying he did not provide any proof of poor counsel. Angry over the decision, Mr. Andrejco-Jones shouted while the judge tried to swear in the first witness.

After chastising him several times for disrupting the hearing, the judge ordered Mr. Andrejco-Jones to sit in a chair away from the bench for the rest of the 21/2-hour proceeding.

The first witness, Ronald Eritano, said he and his wife went to the Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh's North Side about 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8 and left about 6:30 p.m. They took the elevator to the fourth floor of the parking garage.

Just as Mr. Eritano was about to get inside his car, a man wearing a hoodie and a hat ran toward him, demanded money and mentioned a gun. The man struck Mr. Eritano in the chest. Mr. Eritano's wife screamed and the man ran away without getting anything, he said.

State police who work at the casino began scanning surveillance footage for leads. Trooper Mario Schiavo walked the court through a series of videos that he said showed Mr. Andrejco-Jones pulling into the parking garage in a silver or blue sedan registered to his father and then heading into the casino.

Once inside, Mr. Andrejco-Jones showed photo ID and used a player's card to purchase food at a cafe and returned to the parking garage, then moved his car to another space inside, the trooper said.

Trooper Schiavo showed video of a man he identified as Mr. Andrejco-Jones park near the Eritano car, run toward the couple then run away a short time later.

Assistant district attorney Jon Pittman told the judge that investigators have a few hours of additional footage they can use at trial.

When the video portion of the hearing concluded, the judge heard from two more witnesses.

Thomas Gnipp testified that he left the casino between 12:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. Jan. 9. When he pulled into the garage in his apartment building in Ross, a man in a hoodie walked up to the driver's side of his car.

"He came up to me and said, 'Give me all your money. I have a gun.' " Mr. Gnipp testified.

He said he pulled $37 from his pocket and handed it to the man, who demanded more.

"I laid on my horn. I was scared to death," he said.

The robber -- whom he identified as Mr. Andrejco-Jones -- ran away after Mr. Gnipp hit the horn.

Another man, Laing Kai Faa, who speaks Chinese, testified using an interpreter. Mr. Laing said he lives in New York but was staying with his daughter and son-in-law Jan. 8 and 9. Mr. Laing said he returned home from the casino early Jan. 9 and Mr. Andrejco-Jones, whom he recognized from the casino, tried to steal his wallet containing $2,600 and struck him with a metal object.

Mr. Andrejco-Jones, the brother of a man acquitted of shooting and paralyzing a Clairton police officer, James Kuzak, in 2011, smiled even as the judge ordered him to stand trial.

Previously vocal about his representation by the public defender's office, Mr. Andrejco-Jones asked for the defender's card.

The office defended its work on his case. In a statement, chief public defender Elliot Howsie, said: "The Allegheny County Public Defender's Office strives to provide competent, effective legal representation to all of our clients, including Mr. Andrejco-Jones."


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


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