Trial begins in shooting of Clairton officer
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The prosecutor trying two men accused of shooting and paralyzing a Clairton police officer last year admitted to the jury that he does not have any physical evidence -- like DNA or fingerprints -- to tie the two defendants to the crime scene.
But Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons told the jury of 10 women and two men in his opening statement this morning that he does have two recorded confessions.
"These statements are genuine," he said. "They reflect what really happened on April 4, 2011. I think you'll find the information they provided to the police was consistent with physical facts."
Clairton police officer James Kuzak was shot three times as he stood outside the back door of a home in the 800 block of Miller Avenue in Clairton. He and two other officers had responded to a call of a robbery at the house.
According to Mr. Fitzsimmons, two men pounded on the door of the house that night shouting, "FBI agents."
The couple who lived in the house opened the door, thinking it was a prank, and two armed, masked men entered.
"They were there to rob that house because they had information there was a quantify of drugs in that house and a quantity of money in that house," Mr. Fitzsimmons said.
He told the jury that the men held everyone at gunpoint, including two little girls, and one of them attempted to sexually assault the girls' mother.
Officer Kuzak had set up on the landing at the back of the house, while the other two officers went to the front.
"The door was flung wide open and Officer Kuzak was shot a number of times," Mr. Fitzsimmons said. "That's the last time he would stand on his own."
Emilio Rivera, 27, of McKees Rocks, and Marcus Andrejco, 19, of Rankin, are charged with more than two dozen counts each, including attempted homicide.
Both defense attorneys during their opening statements spoke extensively about the investigation of the shooting, repeatedly telling the jury that the couple initially identified other men as the suspects. Both of those men were arrested but later cleared.
The couple told police one of the suspects had long hair and the other had short hair. Both Mr. Rivera and Mr. Andrejco have long hair.
"If either of these two men are guilty, both of them couldn't have done this crime, according to the victims," said Ralph Karsh, who represents Mr. Andrejco.
As for the confessions, the defense attorneys said the jury won't hear the several hours' worth of interrogation that led up to the short recorded statements.
"There's no opportunity for you to see what led up to that," Mr. Karsh said. "About all the commonwealth has in this case against Andrejco is that statement."
Paul Gettleman, who represents Mr. Rivera, agreed the case is built around the confessions.
"You don't know what pressure was brought to bear," he said. "Getting a confession from somebody is an art form, and the police are very good at what they do.
"Other than his tongue, his words, there is not one piece of evidence."
First Published July 24, 2012 2:39 pm