Clairton police officer shooting case goes to the jury
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Attorneys have concluded their closing arguments in the criminal trial of two men accused of shooting a Clairton police officer as he responded to a home invasion last year.
Marcus Andrejco, 19, of Rankin and Emilio Rivera, 27, of McKees Rocks are charged with attempted homicide and other counts related to the incident on Miller Avenue on April 4, 2011, in which Officer James Kuzak was shot and paralyzed.
After receiving final instructions from Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Borkowski this afternoon, the jury of 10 women and two men will move into deliberations. The trial began July 24 and included dozens of witnesses.
During his two-hour closing argument this morning, Ralph Karsh, who represents Mr. Andrejco, told the jury its decision would not be an easy one, especially considering that it was an "awful, hideous, heinous crime."
However, he continued, "As far as Marcus Andrejco is concerned, the commonwealth has utterly failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."
There was little evidence presented by the prosecution related to Mr. Andrejco, other than the man's own confession, Mr. Karsh said.
"That's pretty damning evidence. Except maybe an 18-year-old breaks down and tells the police what they want to hear."
The attorney told the jury that his client was held for more than 10 hours before the recorded statement was given, and that its contents don't match many of the details of the crime.
He called it a "shoddy" investigation, and said Officer Kuzak should be furious about it.
Mr. Karsh also reminded the jurors that his client offered an alibi -- that he was home with his family the night of the incident, watching Hines Ward on "Dancing with the Stars."
Paul Gettleman, who represents Mr. Rivera, told the jurors in his 45-minute closing that they should make sure that they do justice.
"This case is going to live with you for the rest of your lives," he said.
He spoke a lot about two other men identified by the woman who lived in the Miller Avenue home as her attackers, who were later cleared by police. That woman then went on to identify Mr. Andrejco and Mr. Rivera. She testified that one of the men who broke into the home sexually assaulted her.
At various times during the case, she named both Mr. Andrejco and Mr. Rivera as having done that.
Mr. Gettleman focused on a police informant used in the case against Mr. Rivera, who claimed that the man confessed to him his involvement in the shooting. Two recordings between Mr. Rivera and the informant were played in court, in which Mr. Rivera said the shooting occurred because he couldn't go back to jail.
"The police make deals with the lowest form of humanity," he said. "Cats like [him] give snakes a good name."
The informant, who said on one of the recorded statements that he had killed someone before, was arrested months later for participating in a home invasion. That case is still pending.
Mr. Gettleman, too, accused investigators of doing a poor job.
"Sometimes, it takes a lot of courage to do justice," he said. "Do you collectively have enough courage to do justice in a case where a police officer was shot and paralyzed?"
But Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons, in his closing, argued to the jury that in the confessions, both defendants provided intimate details of the crime that only the attackers would be familiar with.
He also said that the woman who was victimized in the house, who identified as many as five people, should not be relied upon.
"Frankly, I am not urging you -- that's right I am not urging you -- to rely on any ID that [she] has made," Mr. Fitzsimmons said.
While he does not believe that she was purposely lying to the jury, the prosecutor said he believed that the traumatic events of the attack -- including having a gun held to the head of her 4-year-old daughter and stuck in her own mouth -- skewed her perception.
"I think it's quite understandable she might have a hard time in those circumstances," he said.
As far as the possibility of forced confessions, Mr. Fitzsimmons dismissed the idea, telling the jury that there was no evidence either man was coerced to admit his involvement.
"There is no evidence those sorts of tactics were used in this case," he said.
Instead, they both signed rights warning forms and agreed to be recorded.
He also reminded the jury that Mr. Rivera's fiance told police of his involvement in her own recorded statement, and that phone records show that Mr. Rivera was in Clairton that night and called a woman he regarded as an aunt for a ride.
Mr. Fitzsimmons told the jury that Mr. Rivera was the one who fired the shots that night.
"Emilio Rivera shot James Kuzak because he didn't want to go back to jail," he said. "Call them just what they are, robbers, burglars and rapists."
First Published August 14, 2012 4:53 pm