Konias claims self-defense in partner's death
Minutes after Kenneth John Konias Jr. shot his co-worker in the back of the head inside a Garda Cash Logistics truck as the two were picking up cash and checks from businesses in the North Hills, he called a friend on his cellphone and asked, “What if I told you you never had to work again?”
Prosecutor Robert Schupansky said on the opening day of Konias' trial on Friday that it was one of two calls the Dravosburg man made in the immediate aftermath of killing Michael R. Haines, 31, of East McKeesport.
In the second call, Konias, who is now 24, told another friend that he was having a bad day. After several attempts to guess why Konias was having such a bad day, the prosecutor said the friend asked if Konias had killed someone. Konias' response was an indirect, “Huh.”
Neither Schupansky nor Konias' attorney Charles LoPresti are disputing that Konias killed Haines before ditching the armored truck they were in under the 31st Street Bridge in Pittsburgh with the victim's body still in it on Feb. 28, 2012. Nor was there any dispute on the opening day of the trial that Konias then returned to the truck in his own vehicle to steal $2.3 million that the men had collected from Rivers Casino and other businesses on their route.
What is in question is whether it was a calculated murder that happened as Konias undertook a premeditated plan to steal money from the truck, or a justifiable homicide because of self-defense.
As Schupansky outlined events on the day of the killing, from the time the men started their route to the time Konias pulled the trigger, he said Konias “at 8:44 a.m. began to execute a plan and at 12:55 p.m. executed a man — all for $2.3 million.”
LoPresti is arguing the shooting was in self-defense, based on the account of the incident Konias gave to FBI investigators when they arrested him in Pompano Beach, Fla., after a two-month manhunt.
Konias said he shot Haines only after Haines pulled a gun on him inside the armored truck while they were fighting over a faulty piece of equipment.
Konias said Haines threw a piece of scanning equipment that hit him in the back of the head as he was driving. Konias said he stopped the truck and a scuffle ensued. According to Konias' account, Haines drew his weapon. Konias kicked the gun out of his hand and then shot Haines with his own gun as Haines was reaching for the fallen weapon.
LoPresti described his client as a “22-year-old kid” who felt “stunned, scared and alone” in the truck after the shooting. LoPresti said Konias attempted to render aid to Haines but used “absolutely poor judgment in hindsight” when he decided to take the money instead and flee.
“He needed the money to live the rest of his life,” is how LoPresti characterized Konias' rationale in the aftermath of the shooting. “The money was an afterthought.”
Prosecutors say the self-defense theory isn't sound because there was no indication when they found the armored truck that a struggle had occurred. Aside from the gunshot to the back of his head, Haines showed no outward signs of injury. Pittsburgh police detective Margaret Sherwood said there were no indications that Konias had tried to admnister first aid.
Investigators who took the stand on Friday said Haines' uniform shirt, with a pen in its front pocket, still was tucked into his pants and that a neck chain, identification lanyard and badge he wore on his shirt were intact.
Police said the scanner Konias said was thrown at him was fastened into its wall charger by a rubber band when authorities found the van.
Approximately a dozen Garda employees were in the gallery when Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman heard the opening arguments.
Garda employee Rodney Shockey took the stand to describe how he came to be the first person to investigate the abandoned truck, which was parked only a block or so away from the company's headquarters in the Strip District. A friend contacted a fellow employee at Garda to report the truck, which was left locked with its blinkers flashing and engine running, had been sitting there for several hours.
Shockey said when he reached the truck he saw blood dripping out of the bottom of its side delivery door. Investigators soon learned that Haines had collapsed into the door and that rolls and loose paper towels had been put around the inside doorwell in an apparent attempt to stop blood from seeping out.
Shockey said before he called his office to get keys to unlock the truck, he peered in a side window and saw Haines inside.
“I pounded on the windows a couple of times and noticed he wasn't moving,” Shockey recalled. “I was yelling, ‘Mike.'”
Shockey said the memory of the day stays with him.
“That day one of my guys didn't come home safe and that's something I've got to live with,” he said.
Still photos from a video showing Konias running into the Garda parking lot on foot and fleeing quickly in his SUV were examined in court. A witness testified that while working on a nearby roof he noticed the armored truck parked under the bridge and later saw an SUV parked near it.
When the case resumes on Tuesday, the prosecution plans to present FBI agents and witnesses from Florida. While in Florida, Konias reportedly spent some of the stolen money on prostitutes and was trying to obtain false identification with help from a cab driver so he could escape to Haiti.
Schupansky said he thinks he'll be finished presenting his side of the case by Wednesday.
The case initially was scheduled for a jury trial. Konias on Thursday requested a bench trial instead.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or firstname.lastname@example.org.