Suspects in Derry Twp. shooting ordered to stand trial for homicide
When asked why he shot Michael Volk in a Derry Township home, Ronell Lamar Moses Jr. told the dead man's girlfriend and another woman that Volk threatened him.
“(Moses) said, ‘Ma'am, he had a gun to my head,'” recalled Tiffany Ann Blattenberger, 22, during a preliminary hearing Friday.
Blattenberger laid out the details of a Dec. 29 drug-fueled robbery that turned fatal at the home she shared with Jesus Santiago, 42, and their two children along Quarry Road in Derry Township.
District Judge Mark Bilik then ordered Moses, 20, of Hamilton Drive, Penn Hills, and Santiago to stand trial on homicide charges for Volk's death.
Blattenberger and Danielle Leigh Clawson, 24, of West Wheatfield Township, Indiana County, previously waived their rights to preliminary hearings on homicide and robbery charges. All four suspects are jailed.
Volk, Blattenberger, Santiago and Clawson allegedly conspired to rob Moses of drugs and money, according to police.
Moses allegedly shot and killed Volk, 24, of Indiana County, and then held Blattenberger and Clawson at gunpoint until a getaway vehicle arrived, police said.
Trooper Matthew Pergar testified that Volk died of gunshot wounds to the head and abdomen that were fired on a downward angle.
Blattenberger said Moses arrived at her home on Dec. 28, allegedly to distribute heroin in the area. She and Santiago had lived there for about five days and only knew Moses by the name “Mitch,” Blattenberger testified.
That night, Santiago told Blattenberger that Volk wanted to rob Moses. Blattenberger testified that Santiago showed her a handgun borrowed from a neighbor.
She would later write and read text messages to and from Volk setting up the robbery for Santiago, who has difficulty with the English language. An interpreter quietly translated the court proceedings for him Friday.
On Dec. 29, Volk and his girlfriend, Clawson, came to the Derry home.
Blattenberger testified through tears that Volk had an orange mask and the same gun Santiago had shown her.
Blattenberger and Clawson left for awhile. When they returned, they heard voices and a gunshot.
“You could hear loud voices from far away, but you couldn't make out the words,” Blattenberger said.
The pair walked hand-in-hand to the house and were ordered inside by Moses, Blattenberger testified. Clawson screamed when she saw Volk's body lying in a hallway, just outside the room where Moses was staying, she testified.
“(Moses) still had the gun and like pointed me (and Clawson) to the kitchen,” Blattenberger said.
They were forced to stay there by Moses for the next 30 minutes while Santiago was permitted to walk about the house and check on the couple's two children. The toddlers are now staying with relatives.
“I kept asking him to please let me go to my kids and we weren't allowed out of the kitchen,” Blattenberger said.
While Moses held them in the kitchen, he provided two stamp bags each of heroin to the women, who injected the drugs, Blattenberger testified. It was the second time both women had used heroin that day, she said. Volk had used heroin before the botched robbery, she said.
“It's something I can't forget,” and drug use did not affect her memory, Blattenberger testified.
After Moses fled in a getaway vehicle, Blattenberger ran across the street and called 911.
Moses' attorney, Komron Jon Maknoon, asked Bilik to dismiss a homicide charge because Moses acted in self-defense.
“I would like to think that if somebody entered my house with a mask on and a gun, that I would be able to defend myself, that I would be able to shoot him,” Maknoon argued. “I think it was clear that he was defending himself.”
Attorney William Gallishen questioned why Santiago would be allowed to roam about the house while the two women were held in the kitchen. Bilik stopped District Attorney Karen Patterson from making an argument.
“I'm not throwing out anything,” Bilik said.
All four suspects remain in the Westmoreland County Prison without bail.
Blattenberger, Clawson and Santiago are charged with homicide, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery because they plotted the robbery that led to Volk's death, police said.
Moses is charged with homicide, kidnapping and terroristic threats. Patterson withdrew a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.