The judge called the case "both fascinating and disturbing."
Fascinating because a fact-finder hearing the details of the fatal shooting outside the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland last summer could find just about any verdict in the case against Isiah Smith and be able to justify it.
Disturbing, because a young man lost his life and another will go to prison following an unnecessary early-morning altercation.
Shooting victim's family reacts to verdict
The family of the victim in the Original Hot Dog Shop shooting responds to the verdict that found Isiah Smith guilty of voluntary manslaughter. (Video by Nate Guidry and Paula Reed Ward; 4/7/2014)
In the end, following a three-day non-jury trial, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning found Mr. Smith guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
The judge said the defendant believed he was in danger at the time he pulled the trigger, but that his belief was unreasonable.
"What is certain is the defendant brought a pistol to a fistfight," Judge Manning said.
Mr. Smith faces at least a mandatory five-year prison term when he is sentenced on July 2.
Mr. Smith, 23, was charged with criminal homicide in the Aug. 3 slaying of Zachary Sheridan, 24, of Brookline.
Mr. Sheridan was shot in the back as he ran across Forbes Avenue following a confrontation with Mr. Smith and other people with him.
The incident started, police said, when Mr. Sheridan and his two friends asked for a ride home from a woman meeting Mr. Smith at the "O."
The woman testified at trial that the men with Mr. Sheridan were rude and insulting to her and asking if she was a jitney.
She asked Mr. Smith to walk her to her car, and as he did, Mr. Sheridan and his two friends confronted them.
At first, Mr. Smith, who had a license to carry a firearm, showed his gun to one of the men, Nicholas Rotunda, hoping to defuse the situation, the defendant testified at trial.
Instead, the confrontation escalated.
Mr. Smith put the gun back in his pocket and pushed Mr. Rotunda. Mr. Sheridan then sucker-punched Mr. Smith, and he was knocked to the ground.
Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Rotunda punched Mr. Smith repeatedly, and then ran across the street, where another fight had started.
As Mr. Sheridan crossed Forbes, Mr. Smith pulled his gun, took two steps off the sidewalk, aimed and fired.
Mr. Sheridan ran about 200 more feet before collapsing.
The prosecution sought a murder conviction. The defense argued for anything from not guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
In rendering his verdict, Judge Manning focused on the length of time that elapsed during the entire incident. It was 30 seconds from when Mr. Smith pushed Mr. Rotunda to when Mr. Smith pulled out his gun.
"The fact-finder must decide what was the state of mind of not only the defendant but the victim," Judge Manning said.
Under the law for voluntary manslaughter, a person is guilty if he acts under a sudden or intense passion stemming from anger, rage or terror so strong "it renders him incapable of cool reflection."
But Judge Manning found Mr. Smith guilty under the concept of imperfect self-defense, which also falls under voluntary manslaughter.
That means that the defendant fears immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury, but the fear is unreasonable.
Although he noted that video surveillance of the incident showed Mr. Smith clearly moving toward Mr. Sheridan, who was running away, there is also a question of what Mr. Smith was thinking.
"The video in freeze frame demonstrated a retaliatory act," Judge Manning said. "The video in real time demonstrates an unreasonable overreaction to assaultive behavior."
Dee Sheridan, the victim's mother, called her son a "gentle giant," and said she did not understand the judge's verdict.
"He was shot in the back. He yelled 'I've been hit,' and they walked away past him, across the street," she said. "There's no remorse for him. He shot my son in the back."
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-2620. First Published April 7, 2014 11:36 AM