Defense attorney says client didn’t intend to be involved in Latrobe murder
The lawyer for a Latrobe man told Westmoreland County jurors Tuesday his 19-year-old client never intended to be involved in a murder.
Defense attorney Michael DeMatt conceded that Colin Gearhart was present but was not involved with the robbery and shooting that left a friend dead in front of his St. Clair Street home on Jan. 20, 2016.
“Merely being present is not enough,” DeMatt said in his opening statement to the jury. “You will be left serious questions about what role, if any, Colin Gearhart had with this tragic incident.”
Gearhart is charged with second-degree murder, a killing that occurs during the commission of another felony, in connection with the shooting death of 20-year-old Daniel McNerny, of Latrobe.
McNerny was shot twice as he attempted to intervene in a robbery of a Pittsburgh-area drug dealer, who prosecutors contend was lured to Latrobe by Gearhart.
District Attorney John Peck said Gearhart and two others conceived the robbery plot as retaliation for a verbal slight made a month earlier.
Gearhart, along with friends Austin Krinock and Zachary McGrath, plotted the robbery. Krinock obtained the guns and McGrath served as the masked shooter, Peck said.
McNerny, who was not part of the plot or the intended victim, was visiting at Gearhart’s home at the time of the robbery and was shot when he attempted to intervene and identified McGrath as the masked man who held two people at gunpoint, police said.
Peck told jurors Gearhart could have stopped the robbery and murder before it happened but chose to let the plot run.
Gearhart was charged as an accomplice and co-conspirator in the robbery and murder, Peck said.
“In this case the defendant was not the killer but he was an indispensable part of it,” Peck said.
Gearhart, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, is the third man to be prosecuted for McNerny’s murder.
Krinock, now 19, of Johnstown, was convicted last year of second-degree murder and is serving a 34-year to life prison sentence.
McGrath, 23, of Latrobe, is facing a mandatory life sentence after he was convicted by a jury in January of second-degree murder. He will be formally sentenced later this year by Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, who is also presiding over Gearhart’s trial.
The two men who prosecutors said were the target of the robbery testified Tuesday and told jurors they were confronted by a masked man with a gun who demanded money.
Remington Johnson said McNerny tried to stop the robbery, got between himself and the gunman and tried to disarm the attacker.
“Dan put himself in between the two of us and he seemed to know who it was underneath that mask,” Johnson testified.
McNerny threw several punches at the man police later identified as McGrath and was initially wounded in the stomach while attempting to take it away from his attacker, Johnson told jurors. He said he heard a second shot fire as he attempted to run back into the house.
Christopher Showers of Pittsburgh testified he believed there was no ill will among the group and disputed the defense attorney’s suggestion Gearhart was not the man who lured him to Latrobe that night. Showers, formerly of Latrobe, knew McNerny and the three men charged in connection with the robbery plot and murder, he said.
“Either way this kid murdered my friend,” Showers testified.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .