An Allegheny County judge Thursday ruled that the prosecutor trying the case of an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed at his friends' house last year will not be permitted to argue third-degree murder.
Instead, Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski ruled Thursday that the jury will only be able to consider involuntary manslaughter, unless Assistant District Attorney Edward Scheid can present him with case law to convince him that malice is not required as part of the third-degree murder statute.
Seth Dillon, 21, of North Versailles is charged with killing his friend Shawn Januck of Wilmerding on April 6.
The two were guests at the home of two other teens in Wilmerding that evening. All four were friends.
According to testimony in the case, Mr. Dillon, who had just turned 21, had gotten a 9 mm handgun a few days before the shooting and took it with him to show off to his friends.
Before passing it around the group, which included Mr. Januck, Mr. Dillon unloaded the gun and took out the clip. He claimed in an interview with police afterward he then left the gun on the kitchen table and left the house for about 20 minutes.
When he returned, he picked up the gun, he said, and it discharged. Mr. Januck was hit in the head and died instantly.
Mr. Dillon told police he did not know the gun was loaded.
There was testimony that Mr. Dillon panicked, tried to keep his friends from calling 911 and suggested that they lie and say someone broke into the house and killed Mr. Januck.
After the jury was dismissed for the day, defense attorney Patrick Thomassey argued to the judge that no one testified there was any animus between Mr. Dillon and the victim, and that murder could not be an option for the jurors to consider.
"Even the witnesses called by the commonwealth said it was an accident," he said. "Nobody said he pointed the gun at anybody. There's absolute absence of malice."
Judge Sasinoski agreed.
"There's no argument. There's no bad blood. There's no disagreement," he said. "There's no one witness that said there were words exchanged.
"Where is the blackness of heart, the wickedness of disposition that's required?"
Mr. Scheid disagreed.
"The commonwealth need not prove that the perpetrator specifically intended to kill another," he said. "He started the chain of events."
Earlier in the day, the prosecution played an audio recording made by Mr. Dillon during his interview with investigators about six hours after the shooting. In it, the defendant said it was an accident.
"I picked up the gun. It accidentally discharged in Shawn's direction," Mr. Dillon said in the recording. He said he became frantic, running around the house. "I wasn't quite sure what to do."
He told detectives he was a gun enthusiast and had been hunting his whole life. Mr. Dillon said he also knew how to appropriately care for firearms, that he cleaned his weapon after firing it and kept it in a safe.
When Mr. Scheid tried to argue to the judge that Mr. Dillon's actions were so reckless -- by even bringing a loaded gun to someone else's house -- that he showed a "willful and wanton disregard" of the risk of death, the judge disagreed.
Instead, Judge Sasinoski said, the actions, which could include recklessness and gross negligence, meet the requirements of only involuntary manslaughter.
The trial is expected to end today.
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com.