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Westmoreland

Accused cop killer: 'I've already been shot by one coward tonight'

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, 5:51 p.m.

A state trooper testified Friday that an eyewitness claimed it was St. Clair police Officer Lloyd Reed who fired the first shots in the gunfight outside a New Florence home in 2015 that ended with his death.

Trooper Michael Dzvonik testified Friday afternoon in the capital murder trial of Ray A. Shetler Jr., 33, that Kristen Luther, through tears and fits of hysteria, insisted that Reed repeatedly demanded that her boyfriend drop his rife, then fired the first shots outside her Ligonier Street home.

“The officer told him to drop it, then the officer started shooting. He (Shetler) shot back,” Dzvonik told jurors on the second day of the trial in Westmoreland County court.

Reed, 54, a part-time police officer from Hollsopple, Somerset County, was hit once in the chest during the gunfight with Shetler. Prosecutors contend Shetler should be convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in the killing.

The prosecution has said Shetler fired three shots during the altercation. Reed fired six shots and another officer fired once. Shetler was wounded in the shoulder.

The defense maintains Shetler acted in self-defense when he shot Reed.

Jurors were bussed to New Florence on Friday morning to view the area around the Ligonier Street house where Reed was killed.

Three witnesses testified during Friday's afternoon session.

Dzvonik detailed his questioning of Luther, which was recorded on dash camera video from his patrol car after it was pulled up to the shooting scene. The video was played for jurors.

Dzvonik told jurors that he was 23 miles away when he was dispatched to New Florence for a domestic violence call made by Luther, who claimed Shetler was drunk, hit her with a hat and locked her in a bathroom.

Dzvonik testified that Luther begged police not to hurt her boyfriend.

“She said, ‘Please don't shoot him. Please don't shoot him. Let me talk to him,' ” Dzvonik told jurors.

She eventually told police Shetler fled the scene.

Witnesses said Shetler was found six hours later after a security supervisor spotted him standing along a fence at the Conemaugh Generating plant, about a half-mile away and across the Conemaugh River.

Plant security supervisor Jeffrey Keyser of Johnstown testified he drove to the power plant after hearing reports that a police officer was shot in New Florence and ordered the facility to be locked down to help in the manhunt for Shetler.

As he patrolled the property shortly before 3 a.m., Keyser said he saw Shetler hiding against a fence, then later attempt to climb into a piece of heavy equipment before he fled the area. Keyser told jurors he suspected Shetler tried to steal a truck but abandoned that effort when it got stuck on railroad tracks.

He later found Shetler again and, as he followed from behind in his car, he notified police, Keyser testified.

Trooper Steven Colo told jurors he and his partner found Shetler walking along the side of the road on the power plant's property, pulled their guns and demanded that he take his hands from his pockets.

Colo testified Shetler was “arrogant and belligerent” and said he couldn't comply because he had been shot in the shoulder. Eventually, police took Shetler into custody.

“He said, ‘Go ahead and shoot me. I've already been shot by one coward tonight,'” Colo told jurors.

When he was asked to identify himself, Shetler initially told police his name was “Tom (expletive) Sawyer,” Colo said.

The prosecution is expected to resume its case against Shetler when the trial reconvenes Monday before Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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