Murder trial testimony: Shetler knew he shot at a St. Clair Twp. cop
As Ray A. Shetler Jr. lay handcuffed to a hospital bed days after he was arrested in the fatal shooting of St. Clair Township police Officer Lloyd Reed, he told investigators the entire incident was his girlfriend's fault, a former investigator testified.
“This would not have happened if she just let me sleep,” Shetler told now-retired state police investigator Michael McElfresh.
McElfresh testified Tuesday, the fourth-day of the capital murder trial in Westmoreland County, where prosecutors contend Shetler, 33, shot Reed when he responded to a domestic violence call in neighboring New Florence on Nov. 28, 2015.
Prosecutors contend Shetler intended to kill the officer during a gun battle in the front yard of the Ligonier Street home he shared with his girlfriend. District Attorney John Peck has said he will seek the death penalty against Shetler if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
Prosecutors are expected to wrap up the case against Shetler on Wednesday, when the defense will then call witnesses on Shetler's behalf. Attorney Mark Daffner said he will ask the jury to find that Shetler acted in self-defense.
McElfresh told jurors he questioned Shetler twice, including hours after he was arrested in Reed's shooting from a hospital bed in Johnstown, where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
During the first interview, Shetler denied he knew the man he shot was a police officer and claimed they exchanged gunfire before Reed was struck, McElfresh said.
In a second questioning two days later, Shetler insisted he did not believe his girlfriend called police after she woke him up after a night of drinking and they had a physical altercation. Shetler later admitted he knew police were outside his home, and then the gunfire erupted, McElfresh told jurors.
“I just talked to Officer Reed the day before and we were (talking),” Shetler told McElfresh. “I do remember him saying, ‘Put the gun down.' There was gunfire, and I just reacted and shot from the hip.”
Reed, 54, of Holsopple, Somerset County, was hit under his left arm by one shot from Shetler's high-powered hunting rifle.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Ashley Zezulak testified that an autopsy revealed Reed died from the single bullet, which traveled through his chest and pierced his heart in an area not protected by his bulletproof vest.
“It would only have taken a couple of minutes before Officer Reed expired from that injury,” Zezulak testified.
Earlier on Tuesday, witnesses testified they were able to track Shetler's movements after the shooting, when he swam across the Conemaugh River and dumped clothing and the suspected murder weapon in a ditch on the grounds of the Conemaugh Generating Plant.
Jeffrey Robert Flowers, a deputy wildlife officer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, testified that he and a team of investigators identified where Shetler jumped into and got out of the river.
“The tramped-down weeds and muddy leaves told me the way the person traveled,” Flowers testified.
Flowers said he identified Shetler's path through the brush and along a fence line to a ditch filled with Japanese knotweed.
There investigators found a wet, gray sweatshirt with a bullet hole in the shoulder and two sleeves of rifle ammunition.
Trooper Jason Morgan testified he started his search at the other end of the power plant grounds and met up with Flowers and his group along a path where boot prints matching Shetler's footwear were discovered.
“We originally thought the rifle was in the river,” Morgan testified.
Investigators doubled back to the ditch where the clothes and ammunition were found and located a .270 caliber, high-velocity rifle with a scope and a 20-inch-long knife hidden under weeds.
Robert Hagins, a Pennsylvania State Police ballistics expert, testified Tuesday morning that Reed fired six shots and Seward police Officer Justin Dickert fired once during the shootout.
Hagins said Shetler fired three rifle rounds. The round that hit Reed was consistent with a bullet fired from Shetler's rifle, he testified.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or email@example.com.