East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld’s criminal homicide trial has been postponed to March 19.
A jury from Dauphin County couldn’t have been assembled by the previous start date of Feb. 26, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket said in a hearing this morning.
Jury selection in Harrisburg will begin March 12 with a pool of 500 potential jurors, and the trial will start a week later, Bicket said.
Rosfeld faces one count of criminal homicide in the June 19 death of Antwon Rose II, who was fatally shot as he ran from a traffic stop in East Pittsburgh. Police have said the 17-year-old was unarmed. Rosfeld is out on $250,000 bail and electronic home monitoring and waived his right to be at today’s 20-minute hearing.
Also at today’s hearing, lawyers also presented motions about what could and couldn’t be included at trial.
Dan Fitzsimmons, deputy district attorney, asked that evidence that Rosfeld didn’t know at the time of the shooting be omitted, saying the focus should be on what Rosfeld knew when he pulled the trigger.
Rosfeld’s attorney, Pat Thomassey, argued that details such as the fact that there were guns in the car and that Rose had a clip and $315 in his pocket should be included. Thomassey said discovery in the case is not complete and is pushing 1,000 pages. He also asked the judge to sign a motion preventing Fitzsimmons from calling a use of force expert during the trial. Fitzsimmons told Bicket that he didn’t plan on doing so.
Bicket didn’t immediately rule on either motion but said he was inclined to wait until trial to decide what evidence could be included.
The Pa. Supreme Court said Tuesday that his jury will come from Dauphin County.
The decision to bring in an outside jury is not one that a judge makes lightly and is about more than potential jurors’ knowledge of the case — it’s about the ability to have a fair trial, said Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University.
Also in high-profile cases, it’s difficult for people to not prejudge the case, said John T. Rago, a law professor at Duquesne University. Jury polls in Allegheny County would have likely focused on whether potential jurors had made up their minds on the case, he said.
If it’s rare to have an outside jury, it’s even rarer in cases where law enforcement officers are on trial for deaths as a result of on-duty shootings, Stinson said.
That’s in part due to how few of those cases reach trial.
According to Stinson’s research, 98 non-federal law enforcement officers in the U.S. have been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges involving an on-duty shooting since 2005. Of those, 34 were convicted of a crime, often a lesser offense — 16 by guilty plea and 18 by jury trial.
In those cases, Stinson said he can’t think of one where the jury came from another county. (In those cases, it may not have been an issue or motions may have been denied, and the requirements vary from state-to-state, he said.)
Rago said the court will look for Dauphin jurors who have similar experiences to residents of Allegheny County and predicts potential jurors will be asked about their feelings on policing.
Dauphin County, which includes Harrisburg and Hershey, is usually chosen by the Pa. Supreme Court to provide juries for Allegheny County cases due to the similar population demographics of the two counties, according to PennLive.
Per the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data:
- Population: More than 1,223,000
- 80 percent white
- 13 percent black
- Median household income: $56,333
- Population: Nearly 276,000
- 72 percent white
- 19 percent black
- Median household income: $57,071
A timeline of Rosfeld’s case
The shooting and charge
June 19. Rosfeld pulled over a Chevy Cruze that matched the vehicle description for a drive-by shooting in North Braddock. Rose and one other person fled from the vehicle during the stop, and per authorities, Rose, unarmed, was shot three times and pronounced dead about 40 minutes later. Rosfeld was new to the East Pittsburgh police but had been an officer in the Pittsburgh area for seven years, per KDKA-TV.
June 27. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. called the shooting “an intentional act done recklessly and with no justification,” and Rosfeld was charged with a single count of criminal homicide.
June 20 – Sept. 13. The shooting sparked days of protests in East Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh, including one that shut down the Parkway East until 2:30 a.m., and prompted lawmakers to discuss police oversight for municipal departments across the county and state.
Dec. 1. East Pittsburgh disbanded its police department, handing patrol over to the state police.
Feb. 26. Initial anticipated trial start date postponed.
March 12. Jury selection to begin in Harrisburg.
March 19. Trial to begin.
Aug. 17. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani was assigned to the case. Mariani previously worked as a civil and criminal defense attorney and a federal prosecutor before being elected as a judge in 2004, the Post-Gazette reported. He’s also a regular guest on a local cable TV show, PCNC’s “NightTalk.”
Sept. 11. Rosfeld’s lawyer, Thomassey, requested that the judge recuse himself, because in June, Mariani had appeared on the show and said: “Frankly, shooting somebody running away — even if you think that person committed a felony — when he clearly doesn’t have a weapon on him, to the case is not acceptable, as it was 50, 60 or 70 years ago,” the Post-Gazette reported.
Sept. 19. Although Mariani said he believed he could be fair, he recused himself from the case because of the “appearance of impropriety.” Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket, a former trial lawyer who was elected to the bench in 2011, was appointed to the case.
The gag order
Sept. 19. The same day he received the case, Bicket approved a gag order, preventing attorneys, possible witnesses and those associated with either side of the case from making public statements.
Dec. 20. Thomassey said during a hearing that Rose committed armed robbery on the day of the shooting, something the public didn’t know.
Jan. 4-11. The application of the gag order became contentious when lawyers for the Post-Gazette and WPXI filed motions saying a secret hearing was held Jan. 3 to decide if Thomassey was in contempt of court for violating the gag order during the December hearing.
Jan. 11. Bicket granted a motion to have the transcript of that hearing released, which showed that Thomassey was not in contempt of court.
Sept. 11. At the same court appearance where Thomassey requested that Mariani recuse himself from the case, he also said he planned to file a motion to bring in a jury from outside Allegheny County. Thomassey pointed to the days of protests and said he thought people in Allegeheny would be afraid to sit on the jury.
Nov. 9. Thomassey filed motions for a change of venue, as well as to have the jury selected from outside of Allegheny County.
Dec. 20. The defense attorney continued to press for the out-of-country jury at a hearing and provided the court with a two-inch thick binder, filled with summaries of news coverage and social media posts, WTAE reported. However, deputy district attorney Fitzsimmons argued that the gag order helped to decrease the attention on the case. He said that in a survey of potential jurors, only a small number said they would not be able to set aside their opinions and be objective.
Jan. 14. Bicket ruled that a jury would be picked from outside the county, but the case would not be moved to a new venue.
Jan. 22. The Pa. Supreme Court ordered that jurors would come from Dauphin County.