Jerrell Whitlock of Hazelwood, charged with stabbing Steelers tackle Mike Adams on the South Side.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Defense attorneys for three Hazelwood men charged in the stabbing of Steelers offensive lineman Mike Adams accused the judge hearing the case of bias Monday and asked for a mistrial.
The request, initially made by William Difenderfer, followed an increasingly heated exchange where both the attorney and Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani shouted at each other.
With the jury out of the courtroom, Mr. Difenderfer accused the judge of being hyper-technical and constantly scrutinizing the defense team.
"I think the court is showing a bias toward the government and the government case," said Mr. Difenderfer, who represents Jerrell Whitlock, 27. "I'm saying I do believe there's a bias the court is showing the jury what side you sit on."
Fred Rabner, representing Dquay Means, 26, and Randall McKinney, representing Michael Paranay, 26, joined in the motion for a mistrial. It was denied.
Judge Mariani said he has an "independent duty" that requires him to enforce rules that aren't being followed by the attorneys.
"If I think the case is proceeding improperly, I'm not going to let it keep going," the judge said.
The situation arose on the fifth day of trial for the defendants, charged with attempted homicide, conspiracy and attempting to steal Mr. Adams' truck.
The courtroom dispute began after a defense witness testified that she saw Mr. Adams in an argument with three men at 17th and Carson streets in the South Side shortly before 3 a.m. June 1.
The prosecution has said Mr. Adams was stabbed by the defendants as they attempted to steal his truck.
But the defense contends that Mr. Adams knocked food out of Mr. Paranay's hands, and when Mr. Paranay and the others asked Mr. Adams to pay for the lost food, he refused, causing a fight.
Shariea Cox, 26, who was in the South Side celebrating her birthday that night, said she heard Mr. Adams say he wouldn't pay for the food, and heard the 6-foot, 7-inch tall man then say, 'Do you know who I am?' "
But during cross-examination by assistant district attorney Christopher Stone, Ms. Cox became confused and misidentified Mr. Difenderfer as a defense team investigator and was unclear about how defense attorneys found her.
After Mr. Stone concluded his questioning -- leaving those issues unanswered for the jury -- the judge stopped the defense attorneys from asking anything further. As has been his practice throughout the trial. Judge Mariani has allowed each attorney to only get two turns to question a witness. There is direct examination and cross, followed by one round of re-direct and re-cross.
"How many chances do you get?" Judge Mariani asked Mr. Difenderfer. "Otherwise, we'll be asking the same witness 100 questions back and forth."
But Mr. Difenderfer argued to Judge Mariani that allowing that confusion to remain with the jury was unfair.
"What he's made this witness look like -- that somehow we grabbed a girl off the street, gave her a script and told her to repeat it," Mr. Difenderfer said. "He tries to totally eliminate her credibility."
"That's the risk you take when you put a witness on," Judge Mariani responded.
Mr. Difenderfer criticized the judge for repeatedly cutting attorneys off and telling them they are asking leading questions -- even without objection from the other side.
Although Judge Mariani denied the mistrial, after the recess, he did allow Mr. Difenderfer to ask a few follow-up questions to Ms. Cox about how she was contacted to testify.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-2620. First Published April 28, 2014 1:09 PM