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Man held for trial in shooting death of Connellsville teen

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 2:41 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Hasani Simpkins, 22, is charged with criminal homicide, receiving stolen property and carrying an unlicensed firearm in the fatal shooting Nov. 21, 2013, of Darrell Laki “Poppa” Ross Jr., 17.

A former Philadelphia man told police he did not intend to shoot a Connellsville teenager in the back of the head, killing the boy at a house party in Uniontown, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing on Tuesday.

“Did the defendant tell you the shooting was an accident?” asked Pittsburgh defense attorney Wendy Williams during the hearing for Hasani Simpkins, 20.

“Yes,” testified Lt. Thomas Kolencik, a Uniontown police officer who interviewed Simpkins in the hours after the Nov. 21 fatal shooting of Darrell Laki Ross Jr., 17, a Connellsville Area Senior High School student-athlete.

The 90-minute hearing concluded with District Judge Michael Metros ordering Simpkins held for trial on charges of criminal homicide, receiving stolen property and firearms not to be carried without a license. Police have accused Simpkins of shooting Ross in the back of the head in a bedroom at 39 Murray Ave., where Simpkins was staying temporarily.

Ross' family members packed the courtroom for the hearing, but all declined to comment afterward. As he was led to a police car to be taken back to the Fayette County Prison after the hearing, Simpkins told reporters the shooting was an accident.

Kolencik testified when he arrived at the house just after 7 p.m. Nov. 21 and entered the bedroom, he saw an unresponsive Ross seated on a couch. Another male was holding a towel to the back of the teen's head and calling out, “Papa, Papa, Papa,” Kolencik testified.

Capt. David Rutter of Uniontown Police testified he found Simpkins hiding under debris in an alley behind the house. A .22-caliber handgun with two live rounds and one spent casing was found in the same alley, 46 feet from where Simpkins was discovered, testified state police Trooper Charles Morrison.

Kolencik testified there was a strong odor of marijuana in the house, and Simpkins told him during an interview at the police station, “we were all partying, smoking and passing the gun around.”

Simpkins also told police he had the gun in his hand as he was seated in a chair behind Ross and that he fired the gun twice into his own leg, but nothing happened. It discharged on the third try, according to the account Simpkins gave police, striking “Papa as he leaned forward to talk to some girls,” Kolencik testified.

Ross was taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital in West Virginia, where a death certificate indicates he died at 8:21 p.m. Nov. 21 of a gunshot wound to the head, testified Uniontown Police Det. Donald Gmitter.

Williams asked Metros not to hold Simpkins on the general homicide charge because the shooting was accidental, but Assistant District Attorney J.W. Eddy argued “the degree of intent” should be left to a jury to decide.

Simpkins was remanded to the Fayette County Prison, where he is being held without bond.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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