Charges unlikely in shooting death

Police say Baldwin Borough man shot intruder in self-defense

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A double-amputee who pulled a pistol from beneath the cushion of his wheelchair and shot an intruder dead in Baldwin Borough early Sunday likely won't face charges, Allegheny County police said.

Police said Rocco Bombara, 51, shot Lairy Evans James-Watson, 19, after he fired a rifle through the front window of Mr. Bombara's home in the Leland Point Apartments, striking Mr. Bombara in the hand. Mr. Bombara fired once in return, hitting Mr. James-Watson in the chest.

It was the fourth shooting in the county in about as many weeks in which a would-be victim killed his aggressor in self-defense, and one of only a handful of such slayings the county police investigate each year. In 2010, county police considered seven killings -- including those by police officers -- justifiable homicides, only slightly more than in recent years, Lieutenant Andrew Schurman of the county's homicide unit said.

"We get a handful every year," he said. "We just had a run of them at the end of the year there."

County detectives conferred with the district attorney's office Sunday and agreed that there would be "no charges in the foreseeable future," against Mr. Bombara, the lieutenant said, although a spokesman for the district attorney's office said it has yet to make a final determination about whether he was justified in killing Mr. James-Watson. Several other cases -- including three that took place in one week in December -- also remain open, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

"To have four in the loop at one time is somewhat uncommon," he said.

Mr. Bombara, his two sons and three of their friends were sitting in the living room of the apartment on Youngridge Drive when they heard a noise at the front window just before 2 a.m. They told police they at first dismissed the sounds as a noisy air-conditioning unit.

"And then a rifle barrel appeared through the Venetian blinds," Baldwin Borough police Chief Michael Scott said. The intruder ordered everyone inside to drop to the floor and they complied, even Mr. Bombara, who "either fell out of his wheelchair or threw himself out," the chief said.

The man began to climb through the window and fired a shot that struck Mr. Bombara in the right hand. Mr. Scott said Mr. Bombara, who lost his legs to health problems, returned fire with a gun he kept under the cushion of his electric wheelchair, initially unaware that he had struck Mr. James-Watson in the chest. Police said he appeared in the window again before he fled and collapsed on a sidewalk in the sprawling apartment complex. Although he opened the window, police said, he never fully entered the home.

Mr. Schurman said Mr. James-Watson shot twice; Mr. Bombara fired one round from a .22-caliber handgun he legally owned.

County police weren't sure why the intruder targeted Mr. Bombara's home. Those inside said they didn't immediately recognize the gunman, but police were still investigating whether they knew him or had seen him around the complex, Mr. Scott said. Although Mr. James-Watson lived in McKees Rocks, the chief said, his mother lived in the Leland Point complex.

Mr. Bombara was taken to UPMC Mercy and had been released by Monday afternoon. He couldn't be reached for comment.


Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.


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