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Latrobe man should be tried as juvenile in botched robbery fatality, psychiatrist says

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017, 12:33 a.m.
Colin Gearhart
Westmoreland County Prison
Colin Gearhart
Zachery T. McGrath, 20, of Latrobe is charged in the shooting death of Daniel McNerny.
Zachery T. McGrath, 20, of Latrobe is charged in the shooting death of Daniel McNerny.
Daniel McNerny, 20, of Latrobe was shot to death early on Jan. 20, 2015. He was a 2013 graduate of Latrobe Area High School.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Daniel McNerny, 20, of Latrobe was shot to death early on Jan. 20, 2015. He was a 2013 graduate of Latrobe Area High School.

A child psychiatrist testified Wednesday that a 19-year-old man charged with second-degree murder in connection with a 2016 fatal shooting in Latrobe should be prosecuted in juvenile court.

Dr. Stephen Zerby noted that Colin Gearhart, who has a previous mental health diagnosis, could be better rehabilitated by spending the next 18 months in the juvenile justice system.

Gearhart is one of three men charged in connection with the January 2016 death of 20-year-old Daniel McNerny during a botched robbery plot. Westmoreland County investigators contend Gearhart and two others plotted to rob two Allegheny County drug dealers and that McNerny, who was at a Latrobe apartment at the time to buy drugs, was shot during the incident.

District Attorney John Peck charged all three defendants as adults, including Gearhart, who was 17 at the time. Gearhart wants Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-Defazio to transfer the case to juvenile court.

Zerby testified he met with Gearhart for about 90 minutes in January and concluded — based on criminal history and medical and mental health records — that he was better suited to be prosecuted as a juvenile.

Gearhart has abused drugs and alcohol and previously was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, Zerby said.

“The juvenile justice system could address the issues. There is a better potential for rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system,” Zerby testified.

Peck has said he wants to prosecute Gearhart as an adult, which could result in a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is convicted of second-degree murder. Any conviction in juvenile court would allow Gearhart to be released from custody in just 18 months, on his 21st birthday.

Zerby was the lone witness to testify Wednesday on Gearhart's behalf.

McNerny's parents and sister testified that they are still struggling to deal with the murder.

“It has completely changed us as a family. Every day, I open my eyes in the morning and relive it. It never leaves us,” testified his mother, Jennifer McNerny. “He was a good guy, and he didn't deserve this.”

County Detective Ray Dupilka said Gearhart told police during the investigation that he, along with 17-year-old Austin Krinock and 20-year-old Zachary McGrath, plotted for a month to rob a Wexford man in retaliation for an earlier fight over a woman.

The robbery was to occur at Gearhart's home following an $80 drug deal between McNerny and Chris Showers of Wexford. Dupilka testified McGrath wore a mask and waited outside for the drug deal to conclude.

As McGrath held another man outside at gunpoint, McNerny, unaware of the robbery plot, confronted the masked man and was shot twice as they struggled for the gun.

Dupilka testified McGrath fled the scene instead of calling for help for the wounded McNerny, while Gearhart and others at the apartment worked to remove incriminating evidence, such as the drugs and weapons.

“They couldn't call for help until the evidence was removed. It was an eight- to 15-minute delay,” Dupilka testified.

Krinock, 19, of Latrobe is scheduled to appear Sept. 28 before Bilik-Defazio for a request to have his second-degree murder case transferred to juvenile court. McGrath, 22, is awaiting trial on charges including first- and second-degree murder.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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