Defendant in officer's killing disliked cops, policeman testifies
A Seward police officer told a Westmoreland County jury on Thursday that the man accused of killing St. Clair officer Lloyd Reed nearly two years ago had a dislike for law enforcement and bragged he would never be taken into custody.
Justin Dickert, testifying on the first day of the capital murder trial of Ray A. Shetler Jr., said he was aware Shetler was “not fond” of police, recalling a conversation he overheard at a local bar.
“He said he would never be arrested and taken alive,” Dickert testified.
Shetler, 33, is charged with killing Reed during a gun battle on Nov. 28, 2015, outside a Ligonier Street home in the small borough of fewer than 700 that borders the Conemaugh River. Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said he will seek the death penalty against Shetler if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
Dickert, who worked as a part-time officer in nearby Seward, was the second officer on the scene after Shetler's girlfriend called 911 for help, claiming her boyfriend attacked her, locked her in a bathroom and threatened her life.
Dickert testified he drove up to the house, saw Reed duck behind a tree and repeatedly called for Shetler to drop his weapon, a rifle prosecutors contend he used to fire three shots, including one fatal round that struck Reed in the chest.
“Officer Reed was trying to fire and retreat to a tree. He didn't make it. He was struck, fell over near the tree,” Dickert testified.
Reed fired six shots during the gun battle, but Dickert said he couldn't determine which man fired first.
Ligonier police officer Kevin Smith testified he came up to the scene just after the shooting and as he approached Reed's body he heard a man yell out “(expletive) you too.”
Smith told jurors he heard what he believed to be among Reed's last words on the police radio as he approached the scene.
“It was a garbled transmission but he said, ‘I've been shot. Please help me,' ” Smith testified.
Jurors also heard Reed's own words, recorded from police dispatch transmissions, in which he described his actions as he approached the scene.
“I'm looking at residences. These houses are not marked. Nobody's around. I'm in the area and don't see anybody,” Reed said.
Jurors heard several seconds of screaming, then another officer saying Reed was shot and needed help.
Reed, 54, of Holsopple, Somerset County, was a veteran police officer in the neighboring community of St. Clair Township. He responded to the domestic violence call from Shetler's girlfriend because state police troopers were more than 20 miles away at the time, Peck told jurors in his opening statement.
New Florence's part-time force had no officers on duty at that time.
On recordings of 911 calls played for the jury Thursday morning, Kristen Luther said her boyfriend, Shetler, went into a drunken rage and attacked her and threatened to kill them both.
Luther repeatedly told Shetler to leave the home and said she was locked in a bathroom during the nearly 20-minute call to 911.
Shetler's voice can be heard in the background saying, “She assaulted me, too.”
In his opening statement, Peck told jurors that Shetler should be found guilty of first-degree murder and described how he fired a rifle at Reed three times during the gun battle.
Two shots hit a tree and the third struck Reed in the chest under his bulletproof vest.
The investigation revealed Reed fired six shots, while another officer fired one round at Shetler, who was wounded in the shoulder, Peck said.
Shetler fled the scene, discarded the suspected murder weapon and some clothing in brush along the Conemaugh River, then swam across.
“This case to me is a study in extreme contrasts,” Peck said. “While Officer Reed was serving the people, the defendant woke up inebriated, angry and full of venom.”
Defense attorney Mark Daffner said in his opening statement that Shetler was defending himself when he fired shots.
“Ray is outside. He is on his property not committing a crime at that time. He was leaving, loading his truck. He came out with a rifle over his shoulder. At no point was he a threat when Officer Reed showed up,” Daffner said.
The defense claimed Reed fired first and that Shetler only returned fire.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.