Lawyer: Suspect in fatal Washington County shooting defended himself
By Rachel Weaver
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 11:48 a.m.
Brandon Thomas is a decorated war hero who acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a man in the parking lot of a Washington County Shop 'n Save, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Attorney Frank Walker requested a delay in Thomas' hearing on a homicide charge because witnesses came forward who can “shed light on the incident.”
Thomas, 30, of Upper St. Clair faces a hearing Nov. 7 and remains in the Washington County Correctional Facility without bail in the Oct. 18 shooting death of Vaughn Simonelli, 55, of Chartiers. District Judge Robert Redlinger agreed to postpone the hearing.
Witnesses told investigators Thomas and Simonelli yelled at each other on Jefferson Avenue, a few blocks from the West Beau Street plaza where police said Thomas shot Simonelli twice with a small-caliber pistol.
Walker said Thomas acted in self-defense.
Mike Lucas, assistant district attorney, said prosecutors have at least five witnesses prepared to testify. He would not say whether he believes road rage prompted the incident.
Thomas served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, Walker said. The Army honorably discharged him in 2010, and he received honors that include three Purple Hearts, Walker said.
Among people offering Thomas support are members of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, with which Thomas served, Walker said.
“The first thing I said to him when I met him was, ‘Thank you for your service,' ” Walker said. “Now he's in a position of defending himself based on the Constitution he was defending overseas.”
Walker would not say whether Thomas suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, saying that's “irrelevant.”
Relatives for both parties did not comment as police ushered them from court.
Three days before the shooting, police in North Franklin approached Thomas when officers noticed him asleep at the wheel of his car outside the closed Club 40 on West Chestnut Street just after midnight. Thomas told police he had a weapon and was wearing a bulletproof vest. Police found two assault rifles, a shotgun and several pistols, all in cases and all of which Thomas owns legally, said Chief Rich Horner.
“It was strange but not illegal,” Horner said.
Thomas “appeared paranoid,” Horner said, and told police someone had been chasing him. Police took Thomas to Washington Hospital for blood tests to determine whether he was driving while intoxicated. Results were not available, Horner said.
About 8 a.m. on Oct. 15, Thomas walked several miles to the impound lot to retrieve his vehicle, Horner said, and later that day, police returned his weapons.
“We had nothing to charge him with,” he said.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.