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DA wants death penalty in Saltsburg murder case

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty has filed notice that he will seek the death penalty against a Saltsburg man awaiting trial for the New Year's Eve slaying of a gun shop owner.

Dougherty filed the death penalty notice in the clerk of courts office on Friday and a copy was hand-delivered to Jack O. Edmundson Jr., 43, who is in the county jail awaiting trial for first-degree murder, arson and aggravated assault for allegedly gunning down Frank S. Petro, 62, of Tunnelton.

Edmundson's formal arraignment is scheduled on March 28 before President Judge William Martin.

“Yes, we have filed the notice. But I really can't talk about it because of restrictions the judge has placed on us regarding commenting on this particular case,” Dougherty said.

“We do believe there are enough aggravating circumstances there (to qualify it as a death penalty case),” he said.

Edmundson's attorney, Gary Knaresboro of DuBois, declined comment, noting that Martin has asked attorneys not to publicly discuss details.

“I really haven't received any formal notice yet,” he said.

Relatives of Petro declined comment on the death penalty decision.

State police allege Edmundson, a former detective and police informant, shot Petro four times, killing him to cover up a $130,000 extortion scheme. Police allege Edmundson pretended he was an undercover investigator to extort the money from Petro since October, and Petro had recently learned he was being swindled.

State police said Edmundson confronted Petro last fall for selling illegal raffle tickets for what appeared to be legitimate organizations and told the gun shop owner he could “make the case go away.”

Trooper Robert Valyo testified during a preliminary hearing on Feb. 21 that Edmundson telephoned 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 and asked about brass for a memorial piece he was working on, Valyo said.

But two video cameras in the shop told a different story, Valyo testified.

The video footage shows that Edmundson entered the shop, reached behind the counter and grabbed a small-caliber gun, then shot Petro after a brief argument.

“His whole 911 call was deceptive,” Valyo told Indiana District Judge Guy Haberl. “He tried to maintain that Mr. Petro was the aggressor.”

Dougherty said at the start of the investigation that there may be aggravating circumstances that could justify a death penalty case.

Valyo said evidence at the scene showed Edmundson may have planned the killing. He said Edmundson parked his vehicle at the Tunnelton Inn, more than 1,000 feet from Frank's Gun Shop, and walked through woods to the gun shop, where he confronted Petro about 1:30 p.m.

Valyo said the video shows a heated exchange between the pair, then Edmundson pointing the handgun at him.

“Mr. Petro attempted to swipe away the weapon ... but Mr. Edmundson steps back, points toward Mr. Petro's center mass and fires. ... You can see the muzzle flash twice,” Valyo testified.

After Petro had been shot twice, he rallied and tried to disarm Edmundson, who was spreading a flammable liquid and gunpowder and planned to set fire to the shop, Valyo said.

The two shots to Petro's head were fired several minutes after the initial gunshots, the trooper said.

Valyo said Edmundson took Petro's wallet and removed items from it.

State police said Edmundson was shot in his right thigh during the second scuffle with Petro and telephoned 911 for help, according to the criminal complaint.

“When (Edmundson) called, he told dispatchers he works as a paramedic and they needed to send a medical helicopter right away. He attempted to maintain throughout that Mr. Petro was the aggressor,” Valyo said.

Edmundson was hospitalized at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh for about a month. He remains in the Indiana County Jail without bond.

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

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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