Pittsburgh man held for trial in Oakland killing near Original Hot Dog Shop

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A Lincoln-Lemington man changed his story as he told Pittsburgh police the details of a fatal Oakland shooting in which he faces a homicide charge, a detective testified today.

Isiah Smith, 22, was ordered this morning to stand trial on charges of homicide, recklessly endangering another person and assault by physical menace in the Aug. 3 shooting death of Zachary Sheridan, 24, a former Slippery Rock University football player.

The shooting happened along a section of Forbes Avenue that includes Dunkin' Donuts and the Original Hot Dog Shop and has raised questions about security in the area that is popular with college students.

Pittsburgh police homicide detective James R. Smith said at a preliminary hearing before District Judge Dennis Joyce this morning that he and other detectives went to Forbes Avenue and Bouquet Street early on Aug. 3 after a call reporting a shooting.

When they arrived, a night felony sergeant told them Mr. Sheridan had been shot outside the Dunkin' Donuts about 3:30 a.m. and was taken to UPMC Presbyterian in critical condition.

Mr. Sheridan died there at 3:44 a.m.

Detective Smith said police found a 9mm shell casing at the scene that matched the type of ammunition Mr. Smith later turned over along with a gun.

Mr. Smith, after watching the 6 p.m. news with his mother and brother, agreed to talk to police about the shooting that night.

Detective Smith said he interviewed Mr. Smith twice that night. He spoke to Mr. Smith for about 20 minutes and then recorded video of a second roughly half hour interview with Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith told police he and three friends met earlier that night and he received a call from his uncle telling him that his uncle's girlfriend, Rhonda Hall, was going to call him and ask for $50, which he was supposed to give her.

Mr. Smith and his friends were at Whim Nightclub in Station Square when he received the call from Ms. Hall and told her to meet them at the Original Hot Dog Shop.

While Mr. Smith and some friends were inside eating, Ms. Hall came inside and told her some men -- later identified as Mr. Sheridan and his friends -- were bugging her for a ride and giving her a hard time. Ms. Hall said she wanted to leave and Mr. Smith told her to come find him if the men gave her any trouble.

A few moments later, she banged on a window at the Original Hot Dog Shop and signaled for Mr. Smith, according to the testimony.

Detective Smith testified that Mr. Smith told police initially that when he encountered Mr. Sheridan's friend, Nicholas Rotunda, outside Dunkin' Donuts he attempted to shake Mr. Rotunda's hand "in friendship" but Mr. Rotunda would not return the gesture.

When confronted with contradicting statements from other witnesses, Mr. Smith admitted that he had instead pulled out a gun, Detective Smith said.

Mr. Smith punched Mr. Rotunda, who would have fallen to the ground if Mr. Sheridan had not picked him up, according to testimony from Detective Smith and from Mr. Sheridan's friend, Chad Keller.

Mr. Sheridan hit Mr. Smith twice back, both men said.

At some point, Mr. Sheridan ran away. Detective Smith said surveillance footage shows Mr. Smith taking at least two steps toward Mr. Sheridan and raising his gun to aim at Mr. Sheridan while Mr. Sheridan ran across Forbes Avenue.

An autopsy report shows the bullet entered Mr. Sheridan's back.

Blaine Jones, the defense attorney representing Mr. Smith, said he was disappointed that the testimony, particularly from Mr. Keller, did not go into more detail about the initial interaction between Mr. Sheridan, his friends and Ms. Hall.

Mr. Jones said Ms. Hall, who was not present in the courtroom, told him the men made vulgar comments to her while asking for a ride.

He said his client had a concussion and required multiple stitches.

At least a dozen of Mr. Sheridan's family members gathered at the courthouse wearing shirts bearing his jersey number and the words "Big Guy, Big Heart."

Mr. Smith's family, including some people who had traveled from out of state, also attended.

An attorney representing the Original Hot Dog Shop has been working with the district attorney's office to discuss plans to increase security at the shop.

The Original Hot Dog Shop for years hired an officer to work there on Friday and Saturday nights but that ended after some discussions about whether the shop would hire one or two officers to work there.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 and on Twitter: @LizNavratil. First Published August 16, 2013 3:45 PM


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