Kuzak shooting suspect says confession coerced
One of two suspects charged in connection with a violent home invasion that resulted in the shooting of a Clairton police officer claims he was coerced by Allegheny County investigators into giving a recorded confession.
Emilio Rivera, 26, of McKees Rocks, took the stand Friday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski's courtroom for a pre-trial motions hearing.
Rivera and Marcus Andrejco, 19, of Rankin, face charges that include criminal attempted homicide, criminal attempted rape, indecent assault, two counts of assault of a law enforcement officer, one count of impersonating a public servant, one count of criminal conspiracy, four counts of aggravated assault, five counts of recklessly endangering another person, four counts of robbery, four counts of unlawful restraint and one count of burglary, according to court documents.
Charges stem from an incident on April 4 around 10:45 p.m. at 860 Miller Ave. in the City of Prayer.
Part-time patrolman James Kuzak was one of three officers to respond to the scene that night. He was greeted with five gunshots from a fleeing suspect in the rear of a duplex.
Attorneys for Rivera and Andrejco are attempting to have evidence removed before the April trial.
One of the key pieces of evidence is a recorded confession of Rivera's involvement in the incident.
At Friday's pre-trial motions hearing, Rivera said he was barefoot and shackled in an interview room when he was questioned by county detectives Gregory Matthews and Mike Feeney on Oct. 26 into Oct. 27.
Rivera testified that he several times denied any involvement in the incident, and that his requests for an attorney were ignored.
Matthews, who testified prior to Rivera taking the stand, said Rivera "was very cooperative" and "wanted to tell the truth" while at county police headquarters.
Rivera was arrested on Oct. 26 around 2:30 p.m. in Crafton in connection with a separate incident.
He is charged with criminal solicitation to commit murder in the plotting of a different home invasion in Allegheny County.
Rivera testified that he talked to someone he identified as Shawn Ball about the separate home invasion, and that he told investigators about that plot after signing a Miranda Rights form.
Matthews testified Rivera was questioned about the Kuzak case following recorded statements about the other incident.
Rivera said he was coerced into confessing about the Clairton home invasion during that time.
"I was threatened with the loss of my son, and girlfriend being charged," Rivera said.
Matthews, who denied that Rivera was threatened or coerced into giving a statement, testified that Rivera told his girlfriend about his involvement in the home invasion.
Rivera also said he was not familiar with Andrejco, and knew who he was only after being shown a photo array during police questioning.
In the recorded statement played in court Friday, Rivera said he was introduced to Andrejco by some girls, and he and Andrejco invaded the duplex through the rear of the structure while posing as FBI agents.
Rivera also said, on the recording, "I'm sorry for what happened to him," referring to Kuzak.
Deputy district attorney Dan Fitzsimmons questioned Rivera's recorded story, and Rivera admitted most of it was his idea.
Rivera maintained his innocence, stating he had to make the recorded story "as convincing as possible."
Kuzak was in the courtroom Friday, but left prior to Rivera's testimony.
He was accompanied by his girlfriend and fellow Clairton officers.
Borkowski did not make a ruling Friday.
He said he will review the evidence and testimony, then file a written statement.
Defense attorney Frank Walker said false confessions are an epidemic, referencing documentaries and literature about the issue.
He also noted there have been cases in which individuals convicted of crimes later were released when DNA evidence surfaced.
Walker said this case comes down to credibility.
On Wednesday, Allegheny County Police detective Tim Langan disputed claims of coercion regarding Andrejco, testifying that the teen was crying when he told police that "the lick (robbery) went bad. (Police) got there so fast."
Kuzak was shot twice in his bulletproof vest, once in the forearm, once in the side and once just above his vest.
His lung and spine were severely injured and he continues a long road to recovery at UPMC Mercy, the same hospital where he initially was transported as a result of the incident.
"I would say there's a tension," Kuzak said outside the judge's chambers. "I have faith in the investigating officers in the case."
The officer said he is progressing in his recovery, and deals with a lot of challenges.
"I pretty much live a daily life in pain," he said.