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Saltsburg man pleads not guilty in murder of gun shop owner

| Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Saltsburg man awaiting trial in Indiana County for the New Year's Eve slaying of a gun shop owner formally pleaded not guilty to murder, arson and assault charges on Friday and asked for a jury trial.

Jack O. Edmundson Jr., 43, who remains in the county jail without bail, is awaiting trial for allegedly gunning down Frank S. Petro, 62, of Tunnelton to cover up a $146,000 raffle ticket extortion scheme.

Edmundson was shot in the right thigh during the fatal scuffle with Petro. He wore a blue prison jumpsuit and used a wheelchair during his brief appearance before President Judge William Martin for the arraignment proceeding, during which the judge outlined the charges state police filed against him.

Asked if he understood that District Attorney Patrick Dougherty had filed notice on March 14 that he will seek the death penalty in a conviction for first-degree murder, Edmundson replied, “Yes, your honor.”

One of his two court-appointed attorneys, Gary Knaresboro of DuBois, told Martin that Edmundson was pleading not guilty and wanted a jury to decide his fate.

Attorneys declined to comment because Martin has instructed them not to talk about the case before the trial.

State police contend Edmundson, a former Lancaster County detective and police informant, shot Petro four times, killing him to cover up the extortion scheme.

Police allege Edmundson portrayed himself as an undercover investigator who was helping police investigate illegal raffle tickets for community groups that Petro, a former state mine inspector, was selling.

Earlier this week, state police Trooper Jason Morgan filed additional charges against Edmundson that allege he was extorting Petro last year, and the confrontation occurred when Petro learned he was not working as an undercover informant and was swindling him.

State police said Edmundson confronted Petro about selling the raffle tickets and told the gun shop owner that he could “make the case go away.”

Trooper Robert Valyo testified at a preliminary hearing on Feb. 21 that Edmundson called 911 dispatchers after he shot Petro, claiming that he had killed him in self-defense.

Edmundson claimed Petro was the aggressor when he went into the shop around 1:30 p.m. and asked about brass for a memorial piece he was working on, Valyo said.

But Valyo said video footage from two cameras in the shop shows Edmundson walked in, reached behind the counter, grabbed a small-caliber gun and shot Petro in a brief argument. Edmundson then tried to set fire to the gun shop, police allege.

Edmundson was hospitalized in UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh for about a month.

His next court appearance is a preliminary hearing on April 9 before District Judge Jennifer Rega on additional charges of dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities for the embezzlement scheme.

In addition, he has a hearing on burglary and theft charges for allegedly breaking into the home of a 71-year-old Saltsburg man and stealing more than $17,000 worth of collectible coins, stamps and jewelry.

Edmundson, a former detective for the Lancaster County Drug Task force, served one year in prison in a conviction for stealing $7,500 in platinum coins from a drug dealer and two telephone calling cards from another, according to court records. He was paroled in 2001, records show.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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