Two found not guilty of shooting officer
Clairton police Officer James Kuzak sat silently through nearly every minute of the grueling four-week trial of two men accused of shooting him during a violent home invasion last year.
Inside an elevator on Thursday on the fifth floor of the Allegheny County Courthouse, minutes after a jury found the two men not guilty in his shooting, Kuzak — with his father standing over him — broke his silence with tears.
“We're hurt as a family with the verdict,” Kuzak said later. “I'm sure we're all going to take some time together. We'll all recover from it.”
The jury cleared Marcus Andrejco, 19, of Rankin of all charges. Jurors found Emilio Rivera, 27, of McKees Rocks guilty of burglary and multiple counts of robbery, unlawful restraint and recklessly endangering another person in the home invasion.
Both had more than a dozen charges, including attempted homicide and attempted rape, in connection with the April 4, 2011, incident on Miller Avenue. Kuzak was paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot five times by a fleeing assailant as he approached the home. He uses a wheelchair.
Rivera's defense attorney Paul Gettleman called the verdict “a little bizarre” because Rivera was found guilty of charges related to the home invasion but not the shooting.
“And nobody knows who shot the police officer, and that's the saddest thing of all because that's the question we were all here to answer,” he said.
That sentiment echoed throughout the county as police officers questioned their faith in the criminal justice system.
“Jimmy didn't receive the justice he was due,” said Bethel Park police Officer Drew Volchko, who sits on the executive board of the Western Pennsylvania Police Benevolent Foundation. “We put our faith in the system; we put our lives on the line for the system. Days like this make it extremely difficult.”
Jurors delivered the verdict after four weeks of testimony before Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Borkowski. Jurors heard from more than 35 witnesses over 15 days, about two-thirds from the prosecution.
Defense attorneys claimed police bungled the investigation, failing to collect evidence and letting two men identified by a witness go free when they presented an alibi.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Fitzsimmons leaned on Andrejco's confession to police officers and Rivera's confession to a confidential informant who was wearing a recording device.
“They worked with what they've got, and that's not always what you need,” Kuzak said.
Defense attorney Ralph Karsh said Andrejco confessed because he had been under intense scrutiny from police while he was in custody from 6 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.
“It's clear to me there was pressure put upon him, and he was told that if he would admit to this, it would go easier for him. And unfortunately an 18-year-old kid cracked after 12 hours in custody,” he said.
Police arrested Rivera in October.
County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he plans to request the maximum sentence for Rivera — 69 to 138 years in prison — at his sentencing hearing on Nov. 15. Gettleman said he plans to appeal the conviction.
Andrejco's mother, Jaime Andrejco, said she wants to hug her son as soon as he is released from the county jail. She expressed condolences to Kuzak and his family.
“I hope eventually justice will prevail,” she said.
Adam Brandolph and Michael DiVittorio are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or email@example.com. DiVittorio can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.