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Voluntary manslaughter in shooting death outside The Original in Oakland

| Monday, April 7, 2014, 11:56 a.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Isiah Smith is led into court on Monday, April 7, 2014, in the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Calling the case “fascinating” but “disturbing,” a judge on Monday convicted a man of voluntary manslaughter for shooting a former Slippery Rock University football player outside The Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland.

Isiah Smith, 23, of Lincoln-Lemington could receive up to 20 years in prison when sentenced on July 2 for killing Zachary Sheridan, 24, of Brookline outside the restaurant on Aug. 3. He could have received life in prison had Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning found him guilty of first-degree murder.

Manning said the case had elements of self-defense, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and third- and first-degree murder, and a judge or jury could “almost conceivably return any verdict based upon the evidence of the facts.”

“What is certain is that the defendant brought a pistol to a fistfight,” Manning said.

Sheridan's mother, Dee Sheridan, said she disagrees with the judge's decision and thinks Smith should have been convicted of murder.

“My son was a good kid,” she said. “He was a gentle giant.”

Smith admitted to shooting Sheridan in the back in the brawl along Forbes Avenue. He surrendered to police about 17 hours after the shooting.

Prosecutors relied on surveillance videos from cameras at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts and on the University of Pittsburgh campus along with testimony from Sheridan's friends Nicholas Rotunda and Chad Keller, who were with him.

Their testimony, however, contradicted each other's and the statements Smith made to police, including an insult to Smith's female friend that allegedly started the confrontation, what Smith said to them and whether Sheridan and his friends were drunk. Sheridan had a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 percent, twice the legal limit to drive.

Smith said the altercation started when Rhonda Williams claimed Sheridan's friends asked her for a ride “south” and used racial slurs when she said no. Williams said she accidentally poked Rotunda in the eye when he got close to her and asked Smith to walk her back to her car from the eatery because she didn't feel safe.

The two groups met up outside, where the dispute “escalated quickly from verbal to physical,” Pitt police Officer Heather Camp testified.

According to testimony, Sheridan knocked Smith to the ground. As Smith got up, he pulled a 9mm pistol from his pocket and fired once. The bullet hit Sheridan in the back as he ran across the street.

Police said Sheridan, who was unarmed, collapsed on the sidewalk of South Bouquet Street. Paramedics took him to UPMC Presbyterian, where doctors pronounced him dead at 3:45 a.m.

Sheridan's parents filed a civil lawsuit against the hot dog shop in February. They claimed the restaurant was negligent by failing to provide reasonable security for patrons, even though it charges a 15 percent surcharge on food purchases made after 11 p.m. to pay for an additional off-duty police officer.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-9027 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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