Shetler tells jurors he aimed to kill, didn't know target was cop
The man accused of the murder of St. Clair police Officer Lloyd Reed testified Wednesday he intended to shoot and kill an unknown man who confronted him in the front yard of his New Florence home.
Ray A. Shetler Jr., 33, testified on his own behalf as the defense's final witness in his capital murder trial. During more than an hour on the witness stand, Shetler insisted he didn't know that the man, Reed, was a police officer and that he acted in self-defense after he was shot at four times.
But under intense questioning from Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, Shetler conceded he returned fire with three shots from a high-powered hunting rifle with deadly intentions.
“Are you aiming to kill that person who shot you?” Peck asked.
“Yes,” Shetler replied.
Shetler was the last of four defense witnesses to testify during the fifth day of the trial. Closing arguments in the case are expected to be made Thursday.
The prosecution is seeking the death penalty against Shetler and will argue that he should be found guilty for the first-degree murder of Reed, 54, of Holsopple, Somerset County. Reed responded in uniform to a 911 domestic violence call from Shetler's home on Nov. 28, 2015, when he was fatally wounded.
During questioning from defense attorney Mark Daffner, Shetler downplayed a confrontation with his girlfriend, Kristen Luther, that led her to call police to their Ligonier Street home.
Shetler claimed he didn't know Reed was a police officer and saw no flashing police cruiser lights. He said Reed never identified himself.
Shetler told jurors about the events surrounding Reed's death.
He spent a hard day of cutting wood and, after a few hours of drinking in a local bar, he returned home and fell asleep in an upstairs bedroom until he was startled awake by Luther, he testified. He said he hit her in the nose with a baseball cap and Luther punched him back, yelled and then appeared to call 911 for help, he testified.
“She was acting a little crazy, like women do,” Shetler told the jury of six women and six men.
Shetler insisted he believed Luther faked the call to 911 and that he never knew police were en route to his home when he went outside to load two weapons and clothing into his pickup.
While he was outside, Shetler said he saw a man with a gun hiding behind a tree who demanded he lower his rife, which at that time was slung over his shoulder, he testified.
Shetler insisted he could not identify the man who confronted him and returned fire only after he was shot at four times — he was hit once in the shoulder — as he attempted to retreat.
“I went scatterbrained and didn't know what to do. I was never shot at before,” Shetler told jurors. “I fired back. I was just running. I had a gun down here (pointing to his hip), and I was just shooting in the direction of the tree.”
Shetler told jurors he took off for the Conemaugh River, which he swam across. He passed out after he realized he was wounded in the left shoulder, he said.
Once he regained consciousness, he walked through the wooded area around the Conemaugh Generating Plant, where he tried to steal a truck and drive back to New Florence to talk to police, he said. He was arrested as he walked along a road on the property six hours after Reed was killed.
“I wasn't sure who shot me. They arrested me and told me I had shot a police officer,” Shetler testified.
Witnesses previously testified that Reed fired six shots and Seward police Officer Justin Dickert fired once during the gun battle.
Peck repeatedly challenged Shetler about his version of events. Peck questioned him about how the fatal shot could have come from a rifle held at waist level and hit Reed more than 5 feet off the ground with a shot that traveled on a straight line through his chest.
Shetler countered that he was standing on ground that was elevated above Reed's position.
The defense's first witness was Luther, who told jurors that Shetler tried to surrender when he was shot.
“He put his hands up,” Luther testified.
“To surrender?” Daffner asked.
“Like to surrender,” Luther responded as she lifted her arms with her palms raised.
Luther told jurors that Reed demanded that Shetler drop his rife and opened fire as Shetler approached him with his hands raised.
Her testimony came after prosecutors rested their case against Shetler.
Luther told jurors she lived with Shetler for 11 months and that he never abused her or became violent.
She testified about her fight with Shetler, describing that she found him passed out on a bed with an empty, upside-down beer can in his hand and a puddle of beer on the mattress.
She testified Reed repeatedly yelled for Shetler to drop his weapons. Luther told jurors she pleaded with Shetler to not confront Reed and yelled to the officer that her boyfriend was not a threat.
“Ray didn't shoot until he was shot. There was no way he knew he shot Officer Reed,” Luther told jurors.
Peck confronted Luther with a copy of a Facebook post she made in September in which she claimed she will marry Shetler if he is acquitted.
“I definitely will, if he asks me to. I would,” Luther said.
The prosecution wrapped up its case against Shetler with testimony from FBI Special Agent Michael Hochein, who created a detailed map of the shooting scene.
Hochein told jurors that evidence of a rifle shot that struck a tree near where Reed was felled indicated that it was fired from a gun that had been raised more than 5 feet off the ground.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.