Through an animated 50-minute closing argument, defense attorney Fred Rabner accused Steelers offensive lineman Mike Adams of lying and the head of team security of helping him concoct his story.
He told the jury of seven men and five women hearing the criminal case against his client, Dquay Means, as well as Michael Paranay and Jerrell Whitlock that Mr. Adams’ story about a stabbing during the early morning hours of June 1 on the South Side changed after he spoke with Jack Kearney, who is an Allegheny County sheriff’s lieutenant and head of security for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The trial for the three men, accused of participating in a conspiracy to steal Mr. Adams’ truck and stab him, began April 22. The jury is expected to begin deliberating today.
Although all three were initially charged with attempted homicide, Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani on Tuesday granted a motion by Mr. Paranay’s attorney, Randall McKinney, to dismiss that count against him. He is still charged with aggravated assault and conspiracy to rob.
During Mr. Rabner’s closing, he told the jury that Mr. Adams’ account of the events that morning changed three times.
Mr. Adams told the initial officers responding to 17th and East Carson streets simply that he’d been punched in the face and stabbed.
But later, when he spoke with detectives at the hospital, Mr. Adams reported that he was threatened with a gun in his face and heard his attackers say they would kill him in front of the crowd leaving the bars on the South Side that night.
“What happened between Story No. 1 and Story No. 2?” Mr. Rabner asked the jury. “Steelers security goes to the hospital. Steelers security meets with Mike Adams, and lo and behold, let’s go to Story No. 2.
“It’s not a drunken melee anymore. Now it’s a drunken robbery.
“Someone is lying, ladies and gentlemen.
“Who has something to lose?”
Mr. Rabner told the jury that the 6 feet 7 inch, 330-pound man was already on thin ice with the team for previous issues of drug or alcohol use in college.
Being involved in a drunken fight that led to being stabbed, Mr. Rabner said, could have doomed him.
“Not only would Mike Adams be off the Steelers, but Mike Adams would probably be out of the NFL,” the attorney said.
He noted that Mr. Adams told the first officer on the scene “‘I’m a Pittsburgh Steeler.’
“What’s the meaning of that?” Mr. Rabner continued. “The point is, ‘I’m in trouble here. I’m a Pittsburgh Steeler. Protect me. Help me out.’
“There’s no other reason,” the lawyer said.
During the prosecution’s case, Mr. Kearney testified that he spoke with Mr. Adams at the hospital a few hours after surgery to repair his stab wound and later went to Nakama Japanese Steakhouse to retrieve Mr. Adams’ car keys, which he said he left the previous evening with the valet.
But there was conflicting testimony during the trial that Mr. Adams, whose blood alcohol level was 0.18, drove his truck and parked it on 17th Street a short time before the 3 a.m. stabbing.
On Monday, Pittsburgh homicide detective Robert Shaw testified that he went to Nakama two days after the incident to review video surveillance footage from the area around the restaurant, but that he found no usable footage from the street where the stabbing occurred.
On cross-examination by William Difenderfer, who represents Mr. Whitlock, Mr. Shaw said he did not look at any of the other footage from several other cameras at Nakama.
“I wasn’t interested in the other ones,” Detective Shaw said. “Whether Mr. Adams was in and out of Nakama drinking didn’t have any relevance to him being stabbed.”
Mr. Adams testified that he had gotten a sandwich and drink from Jimmy Johns and sat in his truck, parked near Nakama to eat just minutes before the attack.
Mr. Kearney said that when he went and moved Mr. Adams’ truck later that day, there was a half-eaten sandwich and drink inside.
Mr. Rabner didn’t buy it.
“Mr. Kearney never really went to pick up the car and get the keys from Nakama that morning.”
Mr. Kearney said Tuesday evening there was no coverup.
“The defense attorneys had every opportunity to ask me any question they wanted under cross-examination,” Mr. Kearney said. “Rabner and McKinney didn’t ask me any, and Difenderfer was more interested in finding out if it was Coke or lemonade in Adams’ cup.”
Assistant district attorney Christopher Stone mocked the defense theory as he began his closing.
“I stand before you as the biggest victim of the Great Steelers Coverup of 2014,” Mr. Stone said.
He questioned, sarcastically, how the team was able to use its power to cancel Mr. Adams’ toxicology test at the hospital, get rid of video surveillance footage from Nakama and coach Mr. Adams to tell a story about his attack perfectly to cover up his involvement in a fight.
“If that’s the case, then I am the one who is the biggest sap in the room,” Mr. Stone said.
Or, he continued taking on a serious tone, the case is really about a “simple credibility decision.”
Mr. Stone reminded the jurors that two of the defendants — Mr. Means and Mr. Whitlock — fled to avoid talking to police about what happened. And that a key witness left the scene of the stabbing before officers arrived so she could avoid speaking to them, as well.
As for the victim’s story changing, Mr. Stone said it didn’t. All that changed were specific details — which were initially left out in the aftermath of the stabbing.
“This isn’t a case of a coverup,” Mr. Stone said. “That’s ridiculous.”
The prosecutor called Mr. Adams “forthright” in his testimony and said “he gave calm, perfectly responsive answers.’
“If you believe Mike Adams, then you must convict all three men.”
The defense has contended from the beginning that the entire incident began when Mr. Adams bumped into Mr. Paranay, knocking his chicken shish kabobs and cell phone from his hands.
It escalated into a fight.
Mr. McKinney, who represents Mr. Paranay, referred in his closing to testimony where witnesses referred to Mr. Adams as a “bully” and his client, who is about 5 feet 7 inches tall, as a “chihuahua.”
“He turns the corner, and boom, the bully and the chihuahua collide,” Mr. McKinney said. “From that point on, everything escalated.”
While Mr. Paranay admits losing his temper and punching Mr. Adams, Mr. McKinney said “All of the frustration, anger and stupidity in him when he threw the punch went out the window when he landed on the ground.
“The first thing he does is run off in the opposite direction.”
The idea of the three defendants choosing to rob such a large man of a Ford pickup truck after just ordering chicken, in a crowded area of the South Side, Mr. McKinney said, “makes absolutely no sense.”
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published April 29, 2014 12:16 PM