Defendant in Oakland slaying said he showed gun as a scare tactic

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Isiah Smith told the judge hearing his criminal case Wednesday that he only took his gun out the night of the shooting outside the Original Hot Dog Shop last August because he thought it would diffuse the situation.

Instead, it only intensified it.

“The average person would back down from a fight once you show him a gun,” Mr. Smith said. “He called my bluff.”

The confrontation began about 3:20 a.m. Aug. 3 outside the “O” on Forbes Avenue.

Zachary Sheridan, 24, of Brookline was killed. Mr. Smith, 23, is charged with criminal homicide. He claims he only fired the 9 mm handgun in self-defense.

The defense rested its case Wednesday after Mr. Smith testified, and closing arguments are slated for this morning before Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.

Sheridan was at the “O” along with friends Nicholas Rotunda and Chad Keller. The men were trying to find a ride back to the South Hills.

Rhonda Williams, a friend of Mr. Smith’s uncle, arrived at the “O” about 3:20 a.m. looking to borrow money from Mr. Smith. When she got inside the restaurant, she told Mr. Smith that there were three white men outside harassing her as she parked her car.

“A young man walked up to my window. He asked me to take him to the South Side for $20, and I told him ‘no,’” Ms. Williams testified.

She told Judge Manning the man, Mr. Rotunda, then offered her $40 and $60. He also tried to open her car door and made lewd comments, Ms. Williams testified.

She went into the “O,” got the money and asked Mr. Smith to escort her back to her car. He told her to go alone, but if there was any additional trouble to get him.

“I was worried,” Ms. Williams said. “I was scared. I didn’t know what they were going to do.”

When she walked back outside, the young men made additional rude comments and called her a derogatory name. She went back for Mr. Smith.

As she and Mr. Smith and his friends walked toward her car, Ms. Williams testified the white men confronted them.

Mr. Smith testified that at first he just tried to talk to Mr. Rotunda, but when that was unsuccessful, he took his gun out of his pocket and showed it to him.

“I was trying to scare him away. I thought he’d back down from the fight.”

Instead, the defendant said, Mr. Rotunda was not intimidated by the weapon. He kept saying, “‘Shoot me. Shoot me. Go ahead,’” Mr. Smith testified.

Realizing the gun was not scaring the men away, Mr. Smith said he put it back in his pocket and pushed Mr. Rotunda, who he said was in his “space.”

Within seconds, he said, Sheridan threw the first punch, and Mr. Rotunda joined in. Mr. Smith told Judge Manning he was knocked to the ground and repeatedly punched.

Mr. Rotunda then ran across the street to join in a fight between Mr. Keller and one of Mr. Smith’s friends.

Mr. Smith testified that as he got up off the ground, he saw Sheridan punch a young woman in his group and then reach for something on the ground. Believing him to be retrieving a gun — which later turned out to be his hat — Mr. Smith testified that he pulled his gun and fired it once.

The bullet struck Sheridan, who was running across Forbes Avenue, in the back. Sheridan ran about 200 more feet before collapsing.

Mr. Smith testified that he didn’t realize the bullet had hit anyone, and he left.

“Was it your intent to hit Zach Sheridan?” asked assistant public defender Aaron Sontz.

“No. [It was] to get them to leave us alone. I just wanted him to stop doing what he was doing,” Mr. Smith answered. “I didn’t know I hit him because he ran after I fired.”

During cross-examination by assistant district attorney Rob Schupansky, Mr. Smith repeatedly said when he took his gun out initially it was not to threaten anyone.

“Where I’m from, if you get a gun pulled on you, you back away,” the defendant said. “My objective was to scare him. I wasn’t willing to shoot nobody.

“I was bluffing.”

“Isn’t it true you shot Zach Sheridan because you lost a fight?” Mr. Schupansky asked.

“No,” Mr. Smith answered.

“Isn’t it true you shot him because you had a bruised ego and a bruised lip?”

“No.”


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com. First Published April 3, 2014 12:07 AM


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