Trial ordered for Konias in armored-car heist


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  • Konias held for trial


  • Kenneth Konias Jr. cried as he knelt over his grandmother's grave, said a few prayers -- and stashed $50,000, investigators say.

    Only an hour earlier, authorities said, he had killed his fellow armored-car driver and escaped with more than $2.3 million in his Ford Explorer. From the Munhall gravesite, he drove to his Dravosburg home, showered, packed a bag, hid another $200,000 for his parents and headed south, investigators said. Thus began a 1,200-mile odyssey that would end 55 days later with his capture at a run-down boarding house in Pompano Beach, Fla.

    Glimpses into his life on the run emerged Friday during a preliminary hearing where investigators testified that physical evidence did not match Mr. Konias' claims that he shot his partner in self-defense.

    Konias held for trial

    Kenneth Konias Jr. was held for trial. Konias, an armored-truck driver, is accused of killing his partner and stealing $2.3 million. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/7/2012)

    District Judge Mary Murray ordered Mr. Konias, 22, to stand trial on homicide, robbery and other charges stemming from the Feb. 28 slaying of Michael Haines, 31, who was found dead of a gunshot to the head in the truck the two had been operating for Garda Cash Logistics. The Allegheny County district attorney's office has not decided whether it will pursue the death penalty.

    Mr. Haines wasn't Mr. Konias' usual partner, and the two had had work-related tiffs in the past, Mr. Konias told FBI Special Agent Gerard Starkey, who questioned him for hours after his April 24 arrest.

    PG VIDEO

    On the day of the killing, Mr. Konias was the driver and Mr. Haines was the "hopper," collecting money from various businesses. It was outside the Home Depot in Ross where, by Mr. Konias' account, the two got into a fight, and Mr. Haines threw a hand-held money scanner at him.

    Mr. Konias "stopped the truck abruptly, there were some words exchanged, and Mr. Haines came at him," Agent Starkey testified Friday. Mr. Haines grabbed Mr. Konias and the two men grappled and fell to the floor of the truck's cargo area. Mr. Konias told Agent Starkey that Mr. Haines pointed his gun at him, but he kicked it from his grip. He told the agent he pulled out his own Glock 9mm pistol, shooting Mr. Haines in the back of the head.

    "He made it sound as if there was quite a struggle inside of the truck," said Agent Starkey, who said he asked Mr. Konias to remove his shirt but found no scratches or bruises that could have been caused in a fight.

    Nor were there signs of a struggle inside the truck, where investigators discovered the hand-held scanner still attached to a wall and secured with a rubber band, Pittsburgh homicide Detective James R. Smith told the judge. He said storage bins and items on Mr. Haines' body were undisturbed, aside from his gun, which was gone.

    "There's a lot of different things that could have happened post-death that could have cleaned that area up," defense attorney Charles LoPresti countered after the hearing.

    Finding his partner had no pulse, Mr. Konias parked the truck beneath the 31st Street Bridge in the Strip District and walked back to the nearby Garda headquarters to get his Explorer. He drove back to the truck, offloaded the cash and disappeared, he told authorities.

    At a mall near his home, he stole a license plate and attached it to his SUV, then drove to a friend's house where he dropped $10,000 into a pair of work boots on the front porch, Agent Starkey said. Then he headed to Florida, stopping only for gas.

    Unable to find lodging in Miami, he trekked to Boca Raton, where he stayed for several weeks and befriended a cab driver, who showed him the sights, like the beach and millionaires row. For as much as $800,000, Agent Starkey said, the cab driver also equipped Mr. Konias with fake licenses, a rented home in Pompano Beach and the promise to help him escape to Haiti. He told Mr. Konias he would dismantle his SUV and make sure it was never found. Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli would not identify the cab driver, but said "he has been accounted for and information has been obtained from him."

    Those who grew close to Mr. Konias in his time on the lam have described his life as full of debauchery, with strippers, drugs and alcohol. It came to an end when a male friend of a prostitute he had been staying with tipped Pittsburgh homicide detectives to his whereabouts.

    Investigators believe they have recovered all but $500,000 of the missing money. Mr. Konias gave $10,000 to a pimp who supplied him prostitutes and helped him rent the room in Pompano Beach where he was captured. One of the women stole $92,000 from him, he told the agent. He led agents to another $1 million in a storage shed a block away from his hideout. He also pointed them to the murder weapon.

    Still, Mr. Konias' confession didn't come easily, Agent Starkey testified. Mr. Konias, who kept abreast of local news accounts of his case on cell phones he bought, preferred to dwell on unfair coverage of him as a "killer" and insisted he was a good Garda employee.

    "He was just trying, in my estimation, to buy time," the agent said.

    Shackled and expressionless, Mr. Konias said nothing during the hearing or as sheriff's deputies returned him to the Allegheny County Jail. His parents, Renee and Kenneth Sr., declined to comment.

    Mr. LoPresti, said they are happy their son is safe and have been communicating with him in the jail. Mr. Haines' relatives did not attend the hearing.

    "They do not want to turn this into a kind of circus," Mr. Tranquilli said. "They want to grieve quietly."

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    Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published June 9, 2012 4:30 AM


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