Unless the prosecutor trying the homicide case against Seth Dillon, accused of killing his friend last year in Wilmerding, can present the court with case law supporting his position, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski said he would not let the jury consider third-degree murder as an option.
Instead, the judge told Assistant District Attorney Edward Scheid that he presented no evidence to support malice, a required element of third-degree murder, in the shooting death of Shawn Januck, 18, on April 6.
"There's no argument. There's no bad blood. There's no disagreement," Judge Sasinoski said. "Where is the blackness of heart, the wickedness of disposition that's required?"
According to testimony in the case, Mr. Dillon, 21, of North Versailles, had gotten a 9 mm handgun a few days before the shooting and had taken it to the home of a friend that evening to show it off.
Before passing it around to his three friends, including 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 has claimed he did not know it was loaded.
Afterward, 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.
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey argued to the judge that no one testified there was any animus between Mr. Dillon and the victim.
"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."
But Mr. Scheid tried to argue that Mr. Dillon's actions were so reckless that he showed a "willful and wanton disregard" of the risk of death by handling the firearm.
"The commonwealth need not prove that the perpetrator specifically intended to kill another," he said. "He started the chain of events.".
The judge disagreed and said that, unless the prosecution can provide him with case law to the contrary, he will instruct the jury only on involuntary manslaughter, which requires gross negligence and recklessness.
The case is expected to conclude Friday, with closing arguments set for the morning.
Paula Ward: email@example.com or 412-263-3566.