'Blurted' comment about Rose prompted failed contempt charge against Rosfeld attorney
Prosecutors failed in an attempt to have the attorney defending the former East Pittsburgh police officer charged in the shooting death of Antwon Rose II held in contempt of court, unsuccessfully arguing that the attorney violated a court gag order by “blurting” out information about Rose at a Dec. 20 hearing.
According to a transcript of a closed-door Jan. 3 hearing before Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket, provided by Trib news partner WPXI-TV, Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons argued that defense attorney Patrick Thomassey violated the court gag order by blurting out at the Dec. 20 hearing that Rose, before being shot June 19 by former officer Michael Rosfeld, “committed an armed robbery earlier that day and stole a gun at gunpoint.”
Fitzsimmons said that the blurted statement “directly and egregiously” violated the order and was “an attempt to poison the jury pool in this particular case,” according to the transcript that Bicket ordered released after WPXI-TV and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed motions arguing that court proceedings are presumed open by the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.
Thomassey was simply zealously defending his client, Rosfeld, on Dec. 20, according to attorney William Diffenderfer, who represented Thomassey at the Jan. 3 proceeding. “We come in here and we fight like hell for our clients, and to subdue or somehow stifle that is wrong,” Diffenderfer said.
Diffenderfer also argued that media coverage of the case isn’t balanced and has “totally destroyed” Rosfeld’s reputation, according to the transcript.
Speaking for himself, Thomassey told the court that the prosecution’s request that he be held in contempt was an attempt to make him resign from the case.
“I just don’t think that Mr. Thomassey’s conduct rises to the level of contempt,” Bicket said. … “I don’t think it’s been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Citing “professional acrimony” among the prosecution and defense teams, Bicket said, “What I would ask, as a human being and as a judge, is for everybody to take a deep breath. Understand that this is a high-profile case. This is not going to win it our lose it. This case is going to be tried on the facts.”
Bicket suggested that any comments the attorneys would make that would violate the gag order should be made in a sidebar at the bench during open court proceedings.
Rosfeld is charged with homicide in the June 19 shooting of the unarmed Rose, 17, as the teen ran from a felony traffic stop in East Pittsburgh. Rosfeld shot him three times: in the arm, in the back and in the head.
Rose was a passenger in a car suspected in a drive-by shooting minutes before the killing in nearby North Braddock.
Attorney Lee Meritt, who represents Rose’s family in a civil suit in the incident, told WPXI-TV that Thomassey’s “wild allegations have no basis in fact and will ultimately prove irrelevant. Rosfeld committed murder when he shot Antwon Rose, who was neither armed nor threatening.
“His actions were caught on tape and witnessed by several people. Thomassey’s antics will do little to overcome these facts.”
Bicket has yet to rule on Thomassey’s request that the trial be moved to another county or that a jury be brought from another county to hear the case.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Feb. 26.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jhimler_news.