Trial under way in Duquesne summer murder

| Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

A half dozen young adults were hanging out in a Duquesne alley on a warm summer evening when a lone gunman appeared in a nearby intersection and fired three shots into the group.

One of the bullets struck Charles Gibson, 24, of Duquesne, in the right temple as he was sitting on a stoop at 5 Seward St., rolling a marijuana cigarette and flirting with two young women.

Most of the bystanders who were around for the Aug. 20 shooting told police they hadn't seen who fired the shots which resulted in Gibson's death a few days later at Allegheny General Hospital.

One witness did identify a suspect: Omar Bradley, 18, who was arrested two weeks later on homicide and weapons charges.

At the jury trial for Bradley, which began Wednesday, much attention was put on the question of witness responsibility and their reluctance to cooperate with police.

"Nobody wants to talk to police," assistant district attorney Robert Schupansky told the panel of six men and eight women hearing the case in the courtroom of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Kathleen Durkin. Schupansky told the jury they would hear from several witnesses during the course of the trial but only one would able to identify the accused.

Schupansky said that witness, who is expected to testify today, would do so even though it's meant her being ostracized from the community and put into a witness protection program. "Consider that when you come forward all you're going to get is grief," the ADA added.

The prosecutor was preparing the jury for the opening argument that was to follow from Bradley's attorney, public defender Robert Foreman. Foreman said because prosecutors are basing their entire argument on the evidence of testimony from a single witness, "It better be a good witness."

"Omar Bradley did not commit this act," Foreman said, noting that his client wouldn't be on trial if the witness had not fingered him as the culprit. Adding that the witness initially had not told police that she'd seen Bradley at the crime scene, implicating him a few days later instead, Foreman advised the jury to review the proceedings with a "cynical and skeptical eye."

Duquesne police Sgt. Ozie Sparks, who was called to the scene of the shooting, confirmed the prosecution's assertion that witnesses in crime-prone Duquesne are seldom cooperative with police at crime scenes. "No one ever comes up to us immediately and tells us who shot who," Sparks said. Under cross-examination from Foreman, Sparks allowed that witnesses do sometimes come forward afterward. Sparks said that when he arrived at the scene, Gibson was "slumped over a step bleeding profusely from the head."

The jury examined numerous photos from the crime scene showing the bloody rowhouse step at 5 Steward St. where Gibson was killed. The prosecution also showed the panel a .40-caliber bullet fragment recovered from Gibson's brain and three .40-caliber shell casings found in the vicinity of the intersection at Seward Street and W. Grant Avenue, where the gunman allegedly fired the shots.

Evidential photos from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office showed where the bullet had struck Gibson just to the right of his right eye.

Duquesne resident Paul Ruhl testified that he did see a gunman fleeing the area of the shooting but said he never got a look at the man's face. Ruhl, whose call to 911 reporting the incident was offered as evidence, described the shooter as a black male of medium build wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans.

Bradley, who is black, only spoke to identify himself at the beginning of the trial. He was brought from the jail in handcuffs and leg shackles. Bradley was dressed in a blue shirt, striped tie and dark pleated pants for the trial.

Under questioning, Ruhl acknowledged that he felt some anxiety about getting involved in the case because of the area having a history of violence, but said he did so out of concern for safety.

Witness Beverly Dupree, who lives at 5 Seward St. and was in her back yard when the shots were fired out front, said she didn't want to talk to police.

"I didn't know these people and I didn't want to get involved. Period," she said. Dupree said she heard the shots but never saw Gibson on her doorstep. "I was told there was a young man outside on my stoop."

Witness Deshana Smith said she was in the neighborhood visiting a relative when the shooting occurred. Smith was hanging out with a group of young people that included Gibson. She said she heard a shot at the corner and saw flashes from the gunfire, then ran down to the end of Seward Street. When she returned a little while later, she said she saw Gibson slumped on the stoop.

Smith also said she didn't want to be in court on the matter.

"I don't want to be involved in none of this," she said.

The trial continues today.

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