Duquesne tense in wake of shooting of young witness

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The crime scene tape was gone. Signs of blood had been removed.

But anger, frustration and fear remained in Duquesne Thursday, one day after a 15-year-old boy, a key witness in the shooting of a pregnant teenager, was gunned down in broad daylight.

The neighbors have their theories. They asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. Some blamed the media for publishing Leroy Powell’s name and video of his interview with homicide detectives. Some questioned whether police did enough to protect a teenager they said was brave for testifying in a community where witnesses often feel pressured to remain silent.

Allegheny County police have not released a motive or descriptions of any suspects in Leroy’s death. He was shot about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday near Crawford Avenue and Hinnerman Street. It was one week — almost exactly to the hour — after Leroy testified in a preliminary hearing for Eric Taylor, also 15, who is charged as an adult with shooting a teenage girl, killing her unborn son. 

Leroy said in court that he, Eric and two other teenage boys walked on May 26 along Kennedy Street toward Friendship Avenue, where pregnant teenager DaRae Delgado lived.

Eric and another teenager approached DaRae’s house while Leroy and another teen stayed on the corner, according to Leroy’s testimony. “I heard gunshots,” Leroy said, noting that Eric and another teenager then ran toward him. Leroy testified that he did not see a gun in Eric’s hands.

But then prosecutors played a video of Leroy’s interview with homicide detectives shortly after DaRae’s shooting. During the 14-minute video, Leroy said of Eric: “I saw his gun,” and of the weapon, “It’s little. It’s small. It’s a pistol.”

That was three weeks after authorities withdrew charges against Eric in another case in which he was accused of shooting two people on Hill Street in Duquesne the day after DaRae was shot. Court records state the charges were withdrawn because the victims failed to appear in court.

“We went to court several times and no one showed up,” Eric’s defense attorney Blaine Jones said. “The authorities did everything they can do. You can’t force people to come to court.”

Convincing witnesses to come forward can be just as hard for the defense as it can be for police, Mr. Jones said.

“The fear sometimes is palpable,” he said.

In the week after Leroy testified, one neighbor said, some in the community distanced themselves from him.

Allegheny County officials offer witness protection in some cases. Whether it was offered to Leroy was unclear.

Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney’s office, issued a statement saying: “When crimes like that involving the death of this unborn child are alleged to have been committed by a person with known criminal associates, the protection of other potential victims and known witnesses is a top priority. Whether that protection is afforded through witness protection or otherwise is a decision made with the investigating police agency and the families of the affected persons.”

Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt did not return calls Thursday. County spokeswoman Amie Downs said witness protection is offered “on a case-by-case basis and depends entirely upon the individual and whether they’re willing to participate and cooperate.”

She said she could not comment specifically on Leroy’s case.

Documents filed in court state that Allegheny County police found at least one other witness who spoke to them about the shooting of the pregnant teenager. That person did not testify at the preliminary hearing, as Leroy did.

“According to the police report, there is more than one witness. It would be foolish of us to think that this is done,” Mr. Jones said, noting also that his sympathies were with the Powell family. 

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Paula Reed Ward contributed.


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