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Charges against Ligonier man dropped for gun use in road-rage case

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 8:12 a.m.

Prosecutors on Friday dropped charges against a psychologist from Ligonier who fired a gun at a motorist during a road-rage incident.

Dr. Charles P. Gallo's lawyer and supporters said, otherwise, they were prepared to use Pennsylvania's expanded "castle doctrine" law to show he did not commit a crime. In the end, Westmoreland County Assistant District Attorney Judy Petrush declined to prosecute Gallo, 63, on attempted homicide and assault charges because the other motorist did not testify.

"Self-defense would have been ultimately asserted as Mr. Gallo's defense," Petrush said. "But without the testimony of the complainant ... we couldn't proceed."

An orderly group of about 50 people from a number of organizations turned out for a preliminary hearing for Gallo, a psychologist who practices in Monroeville. The group spilled out onto the street from the small office of Ligonier District Judge Denise Snyder Thiel.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation in June to strengthen residents' rights to use deadly force in self-defense.

Gallo told police that Patrick James Pirl, 39, of Ligonier began tailgating him as he drove on Route 30 in October. Pirl eventually followed him onto Route 381, where the situation escalated, Gallo said.

It erupted into gunfire when Pirl pulled in front of Gallo, turned around and started heading directly at Gallo's vehicle, according to court documents. Gallo said he pulled out his Glock semi-automatic pistol and fired twice at Pirl with one bullet grazing his shoulder, police said.

"None of Mr. Gallo's actions fell outside the castle doctrine," said his attorney, Harry Smail Jr.

Previously, the law gave someone the right to use deadly force -- without retreating -- against intruders invading a home or business. Outside the home, using lethal force required first taking steps away from an assailant. Now the same standard applies inside and outside the home, wherever a person is legally allowed to be.

Jim Liberto, a member of the state Firearm Owners Against Crime and one of Gallo's supporters, said Gallo was victimized twice: once by Pirl and again by the court system.

"Dr. Gallo should never have been charged," Liberto said.

Gallo said he had called 911 three times and had tried to escape from Pirl eight times before he believed he had to fire his gun.

"You can be sure I will be working with PA legislators to ensure that none of you have to go through what I have gone through," he told supporters outside the judge's office.

States such as Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas have expanded their laws to give people the right to defend themselves in public places.

Gallo's supporters came from various groups and included incoming elected officials.

"I'm a strong supporter of the right to bear arms and the right to self-defense," said Jonathan Held, sheriff-elect of Westmoreland County. "I'd like to see justice be served and our Constitution upheld."

Thirty-one states have some version of the castle doctrine in place, said John Velleco, an official with Gun Owners of America in Springfield, Va.

In the remaining states, "I can say with confidence it's been discussed among legislators," Velleco said. "In some states it's a tougher row to hoe than others."

Pirl was charged with aggravated assault, driving under the influence, recklessly endangering another person and related charges.

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