Allegheny County DA plans to seek first-degree murder charge in Oakland shooting

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When investigators combined witness statements, video recordings and the results of a search that included local sewers, they found no evidence to support the argument that a Lincoln-Lemington man fired in self-defense during a fatal Oakland shooting, the county's top prosecutor said Monday.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said during a news conference Monday that his office intends to pursue a first-degree murder conviction against Isiah Smith, 22, of Lincoln-Lemington. Mr. Smith is being held in the Allegheny County Jail on one count of homicide in the Aug. 3 death of Zachary Sheridan, 24, of Brookline, who was shot on Forbes Avenue.

"This matter will go to a jury, and if we are successful on our theories and with the evidence that we have, we will lose another young man to life imprisonment," Mr. Zappala said.

The case has raised questions about security along a section of Forbes Avenue that includes the Original Hot Dog Shop, whose owners have been meeting with the district attorney's office since then, and Dunkin' Donuts, outside of which the fatal encounter occurred. It has also raised questions about the state's Stand Your Ground law.

"It's a very important case to the office. It's a very important case to the community because it took place in the heart of our academic community in Oakland," Mr. Zappala said. "Fortunately, this is the exception, not the rule."

Investigators have said that Mr. Sheridan, a former Slippery Rock University football player, and his friends made some comments to a friend of Mr. Smith's outside the Original Hot Dog Shop, and she went inside and informed her friends of it.

Police have said that Mr. Smith confronted Mr. Sheridan and his friends and that witnesses have said Mr. Smith showed a gun and waved it in one man's face. They said that Mr. Smith pushed Mr. Sheridan's friend, Nicholas Rotunda, and Mr. Sheridan tried to intervene and hit Mr. Smith, striking him to the ground.

Blaine Jones, the attorney representing Mr. Smith, has said that Mr. Sheridan struck his client at least twice with a closed fist, causing concussion and injuries to his mouth that required stitches.

Police and Mr. Zappala have said surveillance footage shows that Mr. Sheridan ran away from Mr. Smith and was halfway across Forbes Avenue when Mr. Smith fired the fatal shot.

Mr. Jones said he is waiting to obtain more evidence before fully forming his defense.

Mr. Zappala said Monday that the Stand Your Ground Law, which allows people in some circumstances to make a self-defense argument in incidents that happen in public places, would not apply to this case.

"Sheridan is running away, so regardless of what happened up to that time, there's no reason to shoot," Mr. Zappala said. "If you believe our evidence, then the matter was initiated by criminal conduct by the defendant."

He said Pennsylvania's Stand Your Ground Law requires the other person to be armed and that police searched through the sewer system following the shooting and found no evidence to indicate Mr. Sheridan ever had a weapon.

Representatives from the district attorney's office have been meeting with Lou Caputo, the attorney representing the Original Hot Dog Shop, since the shooting and said they discussed possibly hiring additional officers to work at the shop and arranging to have it immediately begin closing earlier.

He said following the news conference that information given to him by police indicated the owners had not abided by their promise to close early and that could affect the nature of their future talks about the business. Mr. Caputo declined to address the specifics of Mr. Zappala's statements.

From the office of District Attorney Steven A. Zappala

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First Published August 19, 2013 6:45 PM


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