Judge acquits Beaver County sheriff on reckless endangerment charge, but other charges to go forward
Before Beaver County Sheriff George David's defense began its case on Wednesday, a judge tossed out a reckless endangerment charge against the row officer, saying there was no evidence he threatened a reporter with a loaded revolver.
Proving whether the gun was loaded “is an impossible undertaking,” Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter said.
“No, it's not,” replied Mercer County Senior Judge Francis J. Fornelli, who is presiding over the trial in Beaver. “It's not only possible; it's required.”
Fornelli said that for the reckless endangerment charge to stick, there had to be a possibility of harm and not just a perceived threat.
A jury will decide David's fate on charges of simple assault, making terroristic threats and intimidation of a witness. He is accused of pointing a firearm at Beaver Countian website operator John Paul Vranesevich during an April 16, 2012, meeting in David's office.
Vranesevich testified earlier that David threatened to beat him with a blackjack and pulled out his service revolver and threatened to shoot him, Prothonotary Nancy Werme and Beaver County Times reporter J.D. Prose.
Attorney Phillip DiLucente, a Pittsburgh defense attorney who is not involved in the David case, said the dismissal of the reckless endangerment charge “is extremely significant” to the rest of the trial.
“The jury will know that something had to have happened in favor of the defendant,” DiLucente said. “They likely will be more inclined to acquit than convict.”
Fornelli said Brandstetter never asked Sgt. Mike Tibolet, a witness to the reported confrontation, whether the gun was loaded. Brandstetter said that David waving a gun and wearing a belt with bullets attached to it was proof enough, but Fornelli said the prosecutor hadn't elicited any testimony about whether any bullets were missing from the belt.
Once the prosecution had rested, defense attorney Lee Rothman first asked Fornelli to dismiss the intimidation charges, but Fornelli said a jury could ponder those. Rothman then moved for dismissal of the reckless endangerment charge, saying, “There's not a shred of evidence the firearm was loaded.”
“Bingo,” Fornelli replied.
Earlier Wednesday, Beaver County Prothonotary Nancy Werme denied that she hung onto a political vendetta against David and orchestrated Vranesevich's threat claims — a key part of Rothman's defense.
“I was proud he was sheriff. I thought he wanted to protect and defend, but that's not what he wanted to do. He wanted power and control,” Werme said.
Werme testified that she felt that David and his wife, Linda, hadn't done enough to get her campaign literature passed out on Election Day. After a heated and profane conversation the next morning with Linda David, her chief deputy, Werme said she put the issue behind her.
But the once-solid relationship with the Davids soured, Werme said, with George David not speaking to her. Within weeks of the election, David was introducing around a woman who the sheriff said would be running for prothonotary in the 2015 election, she said.
Linda David left the prothonotary's office after 12 years for another job in a district judge's office in January 2012.
After the April 16, 2012, meeting, Vranesevich called her when he left the courthouse, Werme said, warning her to go somewhere safe.
“The sheriff threatened your life. He said he was going to put a bullet in your head,” Werme said Vranesevich told her.
When she met him at the Beaver police station, Werme said, Vranesevich's pallor was gray, there “was fear in his eyes” and his lip was quivering.
“Something happened in that room for that kid to look like that,” Werme said.
Testimony is scheduled to resume on Thursday.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.