Bullet casings found at Brian Shaw shooting came from .40-caliber gun, detective testifies | TribLIVE.com
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Brian C. Rittmeyer

Slain New Kensington police Officer Brian Shaw died primarily from blood loss caused by two gunshot wounds, a forensic pathologist testified Thursday, the fourth day of the trial of his accused killer, Rahmael Holt.

Shaw was hit by three bullets the night of Nov. 17, 2017, after he tried to stop a Jeep on Leishman Avenue. Prosecutors claim Holt jumped out of the Jeep in which he was a passenger and shot Shaw as he fled.

Westmoreland County prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against Holt if the jury convicts him of Shaw’s murder.

Shaw never fired at his assailant. Westmoreland County Det. Todd Roach testified Shaw’s .40-caliber Glock had not been fired and remained fully loaded. His Taser also had not been used.

Jennifer Hammers, who works for Dr. Cyril Wecht Pathology & Associates, testified that she conducted an autopsy on Shaw’s body the day after the shooting at the Westmoreland County Coroner’s Office.

Hammers testified that Shaw had two bullet entry wounds, to the front and back of his left shoulder, and a partial exit wound on his left back. These bullets injured his ribs and lungs.

There was also a bruise on Shaw’s back from a third bullet that was stopped by his vest, Hammers said.

Hammers testified that a person suffering the kind of injuries Shaw experienced is unlikely to survive because the blood loss happens too quickly for that person to get help in time to stop the bleeding.

Tim Dawson, Holt’s lead defense attorney, asked Hammers if she could tell if the shooter was facing Shaw when he fired or shooting recklessly while running away. Hammers testified she couldn’t make that determination.

“There’s a difference between third-degree murder and first-degree murder,” Dawson said. “I think that evidence would be pertinent to that.”

Jurors saw pictures of the bullet wounds to Shaw’s body, and the shirt and vest he was wearing that night were displayed on a mannequin.

Shaw’s parents, who have attended every day of the trail to date, were not present in the courtroom for Hammers’ testimony, and returned when she left the witness stand in President Judge Rita Hathaway’s courtroom.

A total of six bullet casings were found in the parking lot of a church on Leishman Avenue where Shaw was shot. Roach testified they were all .40-caliber casings.

In addition to the three bullets that hit Shaw, recovered from his body and vest, two were found lodged in a house across the street from the shooting scene, while another was found in a planter in front of another home, according to testimony from Roach and county Detective Tom Klawinski.

No witnesses on Thursday testified to the caliber of any of the bullets themselves, however.

The gun used to kill Shaw has not been found, and Holt’s attorneys say their client did not shoot Shaw.

Michael Luffey, a witness for the prosecution who lived in a Victoria Avenue house frequented by Holt, testified Wednesday that he once saw Holt with a .40-caliber pistol before Shaw’s shooting. Luffey said he saw Holt with a gun a second time but wasn’t sure if it was the same one.

Tavon Harper, who was driving the Jeep on the day Shaw was shot, had testified Tuesday that Holt had a gun on him when he jumped out of the car when Shaw pulled them over for a traffic violation. He testified that Holt had wanted him to hide the gun in the Jeep during the traffic stop but he refused to allow it.

Thursday’s first witness was Antoinette Strong, who also lived at the Victoria Avenue house where she and other witnesses said Holt lived. Witnesses said Holt was in a relationship with Taylor Mitchell, daughter of Lakita Caine, who also lived there.

Strong, 28, testified to hearing shots the night of Nov. 17, 2017, followed by Holt, whom she called “Flip,” knocking at the back door. She testified she saw a cut on one of Holt’s hands, between his thumb and index finger, and that he was shaking.

Other witnesses have also testified to seeing Holt bleeding from his hand, including Luffey, who said the injury is consistent with someone being hit by the slide on a semi-automatic gun.

Other witnesses, however, have testified to not seeing any wound to Holt’s hand.

Strong testified that, after letting Holt in, she saw him go down to the basement.

She testified that on the next day she saw Lisa Harrington, Holt’s cousin whom she didn’t know, and Caine go into the basement. Harrington came to the house with a number of other people, including children, and left the house, leaving them behind, before returning and picking them up, according to testimony.

There have been discrepancies in witness testimony as to what they saw Harrington carrying. They have testified she was carrying a brown paper bag, a brown purse or a black purse.

Authorities have previously suggested Harrington may have removed the suspected murder weapon from the home.

“We have three different descriptions of what was supposed to be a gun,” Dawson said. “And nobody really has seen a gun yet in this case.”

Police claim Harrington lied about Holt’s location and have charged her with three counts of hindering the apprehension. Her trial is set for December.

Testimony in Holt’s trial is scheduled to continue Friday. No court will be held on Monday because of Veterans Day.

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