Defendant in fatal Oakland shooting claims self-defense

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Former Pittsburgh homicide detective J.R. Smith repeatedly said that the victim was running away from the shooter.

He said that Zachary Sheridan was hit in the back by the 9 mm bullet that killed him.

His narrative followed along with both still and video images taken from surveillance cameras in Oakland early in the morning of Aug. 3, 2013, when Sheridan, 24, of Brookline was killed.

Isiah Smith, 23, of Lincoln-Lemington, is charged with homicide in the shooting death and is on trial this week before Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.

He chose to have a nonjury trial, which will continue today.

Mr. Smith has claimed self-defense.

According to investigators, Sheridan, who was with two friends that night, got into a confrontation with Isiah Smith and his friends in the 3900 block of Forbes Avenue about 3:20 a.m.

Early in the testimony, assistant district attorney Robert Schupansky showed J.R. Smith -- now a detective with the district attorney's office -- a number of the still images taken from surveillance cameras.

But he did not include in the group the pictures of Sheridan repeatedly punching Isiah Smith, who was on the ground, which can clearly be seen in the video.

On cross-examination, the detective agreed with defense attorney Aaron Sontz that Sheridan struck Isiah Smith at least twice and pushed him to the ground.

According to the video, Sheridan's friends were engaged in a fight across the street with one of Isiah Smith's friends. Sheridan started running in that direction when the defendant got up from the ground and fired a single shot.

Sheridan was struck in the back on Forbes Avenue in front of a Dunkin' Donuts. He ran another 219 feet before collapsing on South Bouquet Street.

Prosecutors argue that Sheridan, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker with the Slippery Rock football team, was running away.

Isiah Smith, who turned himself in to police the next day after seeing about the case on the news, told investigators he didn't know the bullet he fired struck anyone.

He also said he had to go to the hospital to get eight stitches in his mouth after the fight.

The incident began when Sheridan's friend, Nicholas Rotunda, asked the girlfriend of Isiah Smith's elderly uncle for a ride outside the Original Hot Dog Shop.

Mr. Rotunda testified Tuesday that he and his two friends had been drinking in Shadyside, then took a cab to the hot dog shop in Oakland to eat. They needed to find a ride home.

"She was upset that I asked if she was a jitney," Mr. Rotunda said. "She put her hand on my face and pushed me backward. She said she was going to find her friends who would take care of us."

On cross-examination by defense attorney Aaron Sontz, Mr. Rotunda denied that he, Sheridan or their other friend made any derogatory, or racial comments to the woman.

But during his interview with police, Isiah Smith said the woman told him initially that a group of white males were bothering her as she walked into the hot dog shop.

Once the confrontation began, Mr. Smith told police, he showed Mr. Rotunda the gun and said, "You don't want to take it this far," then put the gun away.

That's when the fight began.

Isiah Smith told investigators he saw Sheridan hit one of the women with his group and then thought he saw Sheridan reaching for a gun, and that’s why he pulled his. He agreed, though, he never saw any of the men with a weapon.

“They could have killed me,” Isiah Smith said in the videotaped interview. “I was protecting myself when I pulled it out.”


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


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