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Rosfeld’s lawyer Patrick Thomassey boasts long history of tackling the tough cases | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Rosfeld’s lawyer Patrick Thomassey boasts long history of tackling the tough cases

Deb Erdley
| Sunday, March 17, 2019 1:00 a.m
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AP
Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, flanked by an investigator and his defense attorney Patrick Thomassey, arrives at the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg for jury selection in the homicide case against him on Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

Sporting a thick mane now more salt than pepper and an impeccably tailored suit, Patrick Thomassey cuts a confident figure in the courtroom.

It’s a confidence borne of razor-sharp legal skills the 71-year-old Monroeville lawyer has honed in more than four decades in court.

But friends and colleagues say the attorney who represents Michael Rosfeld, the former police officer who stands trial this week for the shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II, brings something more than raw skill to the table.

When he worked as Allegheny County’s chief homicide detective, Robert Payne clocked countless hours with Thomassey. The former college football cornerback was given the keys to a grand jury investigation. Over months, the young prosecutor helped Payne track serial contract killer Richard Henkel — rumored to have been involved in 32 killings – across the country and bring him to justice.

Payne summed up what drives Thomassey: heart.

“The best way to describe Pat is that he cares,” said Payne, who has served as police chief of Edgewood since 2008. “I was kind of surprised when he left the DA’s office. But for him, it isn’t all about money or fame. There’s this thing called justice, and it’s for real and Pat knows it’s for real.”

Payne wasn’t surprised when Rosfeld hired Thomassey.

“If I ever got in trouble, Pat Thomassey would be the first person I’d call,” Payne said.

For now, Thomassey can’t talk about the case.

Rosfeld, a white police officer, is accused of killing an unarmed black teen without cause. The shooting occurred in East Pittsburgh as Rose fled a traffic stop of a bullet-riddled car moments after a drive-by shooting.

Publicity surrounding the June 19 incident culminated in a judge preventing anyone involved from commenting on it.

Eastern suburb roots

Like Rosfeld, Thomassey has connections to the struggling towns in Pittsburgh’s eastern suburbs. He grew up in Chalfant, a borough down the road from East Pittsburgh. He was the second of five children of Marian Thomassey, a homemaker, and Pat Thomassey Sr., a bartender who ran Pat’s Place — a beloved Turtle Creek tavern that stood on Airbrake Avenue.

Thomassey graduated from Churchill High School in 1966. His skill on the football team earned the short, scrappy cornerback a scholarship to Western Colorado State College, now Western Colorado University.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning has known Thomassey since high school and considers him a dear friend. The two met when Manning was head lifeguard at the now-defunct Churchill Valley Country Club. Thomassey worked there as a golf caddie.

“You should have seen the diminutive caddie carrying two huge bags up the fairways,” Manning said, laughing. “He still reminds me that I had the easier job, lounging at the pool.”

Manning said Thomassey has never abandoned his small-town roots in the eastern suburbs, roots cemented even deeper when he married his wife Joanie, a Wilkinsburg native. The two have been married 43 years.

Thomassey and Manning got together again after law school at Duquesne University. Manning, who was on a three-year draft deferment, attended law school during the day. Thomassey attended night school, tending bar and clerking in the District Attorney’s Office during the day to make ends meet.

They were among an ambitious group of young prosecutors who got their start in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office under the late Robert Colville. Among the group were future U.S. Attorney J. Alan Johnson; future state senator and federal Judge Mike Fisher; the late Gary Lancaster, who would become the first black chief federal judge in Pennsylvania’s Western District; and future Pennsylvania Attorney General and Gov. Tom Corbett.

“We actually took the bar together in February 1976,” Corbett said, recalling his earliest encounter with Thomassey. “Then we were in the DA’s office together. Patrick had already been there as clerk. We were a friendly, social group.”

Already, Thomassey was developing a reputation as a tenacious advocate, a feisty bulldog who charmed juries as he built his cases.

“He’d just stick his chin out there when he was in court,” Corbett said.

Thomassey spent five years in the prosecutor’s office, steering grand juries and cutting his teeth on homicide cases. He left in 1981 for private practice with Charles Scarlatta.

High-profile cases

When police arrested three Duquesne University basketball players and charged them with raping an 18-year-old coed, Thomassey agreed to defend Eric Compton. The promising 19-year-old player was acquitted after a highly publicized, emotionally charged trial in 1985.

The tension surrounding that case would be nothing compared to that Thomassey encountered when he defended Milton Mulholland, one of three police officers charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 1995 death of Jonny Gammage, a 31-year-old black businessman.

Gammage was driving a Jaguar owned by his cousin, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ray Seals, when he was stopped the night of Oct. 12, 1995. Officers wrestled Gammage to the ground, handcuffed and pinned him in an attempt to subdue him. Gammage suffocated. His death ignited an outrage in the black community here — a reaction not seen again for more than two decades, until Rose was shot and killed.

Mulholland, a veteran Brentwood police officer who initiated the traffic stop, was tried twice. Both proceedings, with Thomassey leading his defense, ended in mistrials. A court ruled that a third trial would constitute double jeopardy.

More recently, Thomassey defended Alex Hribal, the emotionally troubled teen who went on a bloody rampage at Franklin Regional High School the morning of April 9, 2014, stabbing 20 students and a security guard with a pair of kitchen knives he brought to school.

Thomassey steered the case through the courts for nearly four years as authorities debated the fate of the young man who was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia. Eventually, Hribal faced prosecution as an adult and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to serve up to 60 years in prison.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck squared off against Thomassey throughout the Hribal case and has faced him as a fierce legal opponent more than once. But their differences end at the courtroom door.

“Patrick does an outstanding job of representing his clients. He has a plan when he goes into court. He has a thought-out strategy, and I think juries tend to like and respect him. It’s a real pleasure to try a case with Patrick. He always represents his clients in a very honest and straightforward way,” Peck said.

Manning said Thomassey’s decision to represent Rosfeld just months after the Hribal defense concluded is the kind of thing he’s come to expect from his longtime friend.

“He complains about the legal profession a lot, but he loves being a lawyer. Patrick is always looking forward to the next challenge,” Manning said. “There’s an element in him that requires him to do the most he can. He believes in our system, and he’d feel he’d let the world down if he didn’t tackle the hard cases and do the best job he could.”

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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