Feds or state could try Konias
Ross Detective Brian Kohlepp (far right), Pittsburgh homicide Detective J.R. Smith (second from right) and two other investigators on Thursday leave the Pompano Beach, Fla., home where Ken Konias was arrested earlier this week.
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Whether the man accused of killing a fellow armored car employee and stealing $2.3 million is tried in state or federal court, he will likely face the same maximum penalty -- life in prison, or possibly death.
Law enforcement officials in Pittsburgh have not decided what jurisdiction should try Kenneth Konias Jr., 22, of Dravosburg. He is accused of killing Michael Haines under the 31st Street Bridge in the Strip District after the two men who worked for Garda Cash Logistics picked up deposits from a number of businesses Feb. 28.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he spoke Wednesday with U.S. Attorney David Hickton.
"Whichever way it goes, either our guys will go with the feds or the feds can come with us," Mr. Zappala said. "Both systems would support maximum penalties."
The U.S. attorney's office said discussions would be ongoing until a decision is reached.
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said the decision on whichever jurisdiction takes the case likely will be based on resources and efficiency in the prosecution.
"Most blue-collar criminal offenses are handled on the state side," Mr. Burkoff said.
This case consists of armed robbery and homicide -- two crimes generally handled in Pennsylvania's courts of common pleas. But because Mr. Konias fled the state, he also became a federal fugitive. He was arrested early Tuesday at a home in Pompano Beach, Fla.
"It's just sort of a coin flip," Mr. Burkoff said. "In one sense, it doesn't really matter because there's a sort of safety net."
If one jurisdiction would try Mr. Konias and fail -- if there is an acquittal -- the other jurisdiction can still bring charges.
"That's not double jeopardy," Mr. Burkoff said. "They're two different sovereigns."
Mr. Zappala said his office could seek the death penalty against Mr. Konias because there is at least one aggravating factor -- that Mr. Haines was killed during the commission of a robbery.
"I have to talk to the Haines family, and they have to understand what the death penalty entails," Mr. Zappala said. "I think the community is better served by this guy disappearing as quickly as he can."
A death penalty case would likely take at least 18 months. If the maximum penalty sought is life in prison without parole, the case could end in about six months, Mr. Zappala said.
Pittsburgh detectives arrived in Florida on Wednesday and will work to retrace Mr. Konias' steps over the last eight weeks. They are particularly interested in trying to track down a cab driver, who was possibly Jamaican, whom Mr. Konias may have befriended.
On Thursday afternoon, five investigators, including two from Pittsburgh and FBI agents, arrived at the ramshackle house in Pompano Beach where Mr. Konias was found earlier this week. They pulled up in front of the home at around 4 p.m. Accompanied by two members of the Broward County Sheriff's Department, the group stationed itself across the front of the home and knocked, yelling "Broward County sheriffs!"
They were allowed in after about a minute and remained for nearly two hours, where they interviewed those inside separate rooms and "looked around," said Shewona Flowers, who occasionally stays there. She said they did not have a warrant.
She said investigators asked her about how she knew Mr. Konias and if she knew about the money. She said she did not. They also asked about a prostitute and dancer known as Summer, who may possess some of the stolen loot.
Ms. Flowers said Mr. Konias met Summer after he answered an online advertisement for her services and twice paid her for sex. He reportedly provided for her every need, lavishing her with cash. Later, the two had a falling out and Mr. Konias locked her from the room. She then broke in and stole $30,000 from a black duffle bag where he kept the cash, he reportedly told Ms. Flowers. The woman has not been seen since.
Besides Ms. Flowers, investigators also questioned her son, 27-year-old Leon Flowers, her brother John Flowers, who manages the property and is known as the pimp for the revolving door of prostitutes in the home, and two women whom Mr. Konias paid for sex over the past two weeks.
Investigators left empty-handed at around 6 p.m., and referred comment to Pittsburgh police. The FBI in Florida is attempting to work backward to trace Mr. Konias' steps since leaving Pittsburgh.
"When you've got $2.3 million, you can move anywhere you want," Mr. Zappala said. "That was one of the problems with the case. The money wasn't traceable."
Police so far have recovered about $1.4 million of the $2.3 million that was stolen.
In a statement he provided to investigators in Florida, Mr. Konias said he shot Mr. Haines in self-defense when he objected to the attempted robbery.
"It doesn't appear to be consistent with the physical evidence," Mr. Zappala said of Mr. Konias' statement.
"[Mr. Haines] was basically executed."
Forensics show that Mr. Haines was shot in the back of the head.
Mr. Konias' parents, Renee and Kenneth Sr., couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. Attorney Charles LoPresti, who said he is representing Mr. Konias criminally, declined to comment on the specifics of the case because he said he had not seen the statement Mr. Konias gave to investigators.
"I haven't been made privy to any of the factual aspects of the case," Mr. LoPresti said, adding that discussions of the possibility of the death penalty were premature. "I'm stunned that all of this is being talked about before the investigation is completed."
Mr. Konias remained in a federal detention center in Miami on Thursday and has not been in contact with his attorney or his parents, Mr. LoPresti said.
"Right or wrong, they want to see their son," he said.
He did not know when Mr. Konias would be returned to Pittsburgh. U.S. marshals have said that could take as long as a month.
First Published April 27, 2012 10:40 am