A day after a jury acquitted three men of stabbing Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Mike Adams, Allegheny County's top prosecutor and one of the defense attorneys traded barbs about the case, the judge and a witness.
Bill Difenderfer, who represented acquitted defendant Jerrell Whitlock, Thursday said the case against his client, Michael Paranay and Dquay Means tanked largely because of Mr. Adams' credibility problems.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. questioned whether a surprise defense witness lied on the stand, complained about how Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani handled his courtroom and dismissed implications that a sheriff's lieutenant who runs security for the Steelers coached Mr. Adams to change his story.
In remarks made after an appearance in Wilkinsburg to express support for a state bill to create a prescription drug monitoring program, Mr. Zappala wondered how three men were acquitted despite the injury to Mr. Adams in June.
The prosecution said Mr. Adams was stabbed by the defendants as they attempted to steal his truck. But the defense contended that Mr. Adams knocked food out of Mr. Paranay's hands and that when the three men asked Mr. Adams to pay for the food, he refused, causing a fight.
"Let me tell you really simply," Mr. Difenderfer said. "Before you say somebody is guilty of whether it's attempted murder or aggravated felonious assault, which would carry possibly 10 years in prison, before you do that, should you be sure of who did it?"
That was the problem, Mr. Difenderfer said -- the prosecution could not prove who stabbed Mr. Adams. And, he added, the football player did not help himself with his own testimony.
Mr. Difenderfer claimed that Mr. Adams lied at a preliminary hearing about how many drinks he had on the June night he was stabbed on the South Side (the offensive lineman testified that he had misunderstood the question). That, combined with what the attorney said was Mr. Adams' changing story, led to credibility problems with the jury.
"He embellished the story to take the spotlight off him," Mr. Difenderfer said. "Whether he was coached, there's no evidence of that. But I would find it hard to believe ... that he didn't consult with somebody about the situation he found himself in."
One of the jurors on the case said he and his colleagues carefully applied the judge's instructions to the attempted homicide, aggravated assault and attempted robbery charges before finding the defendants not guilty.
"On the majority of the items, I'd say, everyone was on the same page," Neil Watko, 60, said.
Mr. Watko declined to discuss specifics of the five-hour deliberations, citing a promise jurors made to one another. But he said the evidence did not allow for a guilty verdict under the letter of the law on the attempted robbery charge. As for the other two charges, "There was enough evidence there which created a reasonable doubt for everyone."
Asked whether Mr. Adams was a credible witness, Mr. Watko laughed and said, "That's exactly what I can't talk about."
Mr. Zappala complained about how Judge Mariani ran his courtroom during the trial. The judge declined comment, citing the upcoming sentencing of Mr. Means, who was found guilty of escape after he ran from detectives, and Mr. Whitlock, who was found guilty of flight to avoid apprehension.
Mr. Difenderfer was surprised by the DA's comments considering the tension in the courtroom between the judge and the defense attorneys.
"If there was any complaint with the judge, I was complaining that the judge was showing that he was for the prosecution," Mr. Difenderfer said. "So for the district attorney to complain about that is baffling to me."
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org. Paula Reed Ward contributed. First Published May 1, 2014 12:45 PM