Judge dismisses one of five counts against Beaver County sheriff
July 9, 2014 9:59 PM
Beaver County Sheriff George David.
By Torsten Ove / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The sheriff of Beaver County won a round Wednesday in his ongoing criminal trial when a judge admonished the state for making a mistake and threw out one of the five charges against him.
But the battle continues today in a Beaver County courtroom over whether Sheriff George David pulled his gun and threatened to shoot a local blogger while ranting against him and two other people he felt had wronged him — a reporter whose stories he didn't like and the county prothonotary with whom he had a political feud stemming from the 2011 election.
The sheriff is charged with threatening to kill John Paul Vranesevich, operator of the Beaver Countian website, during a tirade on April 16, 2012. Mr. Vranesevich and another witness, Deputy Sgt. Michael Tibolet, said that during that outburst, he also threatened to kill J.D. Prose of the Beaver County Times and Nancy Werme, the prothonotary he considered a political enemy.
After the prosecution rested Wednesday, Senior Judge Francis Fornelli of Mercer County granted a defense motion by the sheriff's lawyer, Lee Rothman, and dismissed a count of reckless endangerment.
Mr. Rothman argued that Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter did not present evidence that the sheriff's gun was loaded.
Ms. Brandstetter said proving the gun was loaded would be "impossible," earning a rebuke from the judge who said she should have questioned Sgt. Tibolet about whether he could see bullets in the sheriff's revolver.
"It's not only possible, it's required,” the judge told her.
To convict someone of reckless endangerment, the state has to show that a defendant has the means to carry out the act.
Ms. Brandstetter argued that it was enough to show that the sheriff was waving his gun around with his finger on the trigger and wore an old-fashioned gun belt with bullets visible.
But the judge said case law indicates that she's wrong and dismissed the count.
The trial will proceed on other counts of terroristic threats, simple assault by menace and two counts of intimidation.
Mr. Rothman began presenting his defense Wednesday afternoon and will continue today.
Earlier on Wednesday, the trial focused on political infighting between the sheriff and Ms. Werme, the prothonotary for 15 years who had employed the sheriff's wife, Linda, in her office.
Ms. Werme testified that she was angry at the Davids because she felt the couple did not do enough to support her, as a fellow Democratic row officer, in the November 2011 election.
But she denied that she was behind Mr. Vranesevich's claims, a theory presented by Mr. Rothman from the beginning.
Ms. Werme, a childhood friend of the sheriff's, said that Mr. Vranesevich called her after the April 16 meeting to warn her that the sheriff wanted to shoot her.
"I want you to go somewhere safe, the sheriff threatened your life," she said Mr. Vranesevich tearfully told her. "He said he's going to put a bullet in your head."
She said the sheriff's animus stemmed from a political falling-out she had with him and his wife during the election, but she said she had nothing to do with Mr. Vranesevich beyond seeing him in her office a few times a week, as she did other reporters checking court filings.
Mr. Rothman has intimated in his line of questioning that Ms. Werme, who also is the long-time chair of the Beaver Borough Democratic Committee, orchestrated Mr. Vranesevich's claims against the sheriff as political payback.
Ms. Werme won the 2011 election but admitted that she was still mad that Linda David, formerly her top assistant, hadn't passed out more campaign literature at polling stations, costing her votes. When Linda David congratulated her about her win in a phone call the day after the election, she acknowledged that she swore at her.
"I was disappointed," she told the jury. "I did not like the way they handled it."
But she denied that she was out to get the sheriff. She said that after she chewed out Linda, she tried to put the matter behind her, but the relationship between her and the Davids worsened until Ms. David eventually requested a transfer to another job.
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