Jury convicts Latrobe man of third-degree murder in robbery-turned-homicide case
A Westmoreland County jury Friday convicted a Latrobe man of a lesser charge of third-degree murder for his role in a robbery plot that turned deadly when a Good Samaritan was gunned down as he attempted to intervene.
Colin Gearhart, 19, was also found guilty of robbery and conspiracy counts but acquitted of the most serious charge, second-degree murder. Jurors deliberated about four hours.
Prosecutors contended Gearhart, along with friends Austin Krinock and Zachary McGrath, planned and executed the Jan. 20, 2016, robbery that resulted in the death of 20-year-old Daniel McNerny.
“We will forever miss Dan, but knowing the three people responsible for his murder will not be out to do this to anyone else makes this a little bit easier,” said McNerny’s father, Scott, after the jury verdict was announced.
For the third-degree murder conviction, Gearhart faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 to 40 years in prison. Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik- DeFazio could impose additional prison time for the robbery and conspiracy convictions.
District Attorney John Peck, in his closing argument to the jury, said Gearhart should be found guilty of second-degree murder.
Gearhart confessed to police he planned the robbery of another friend, a Pittsburgh drug dealer who he lured to Latrobe the night of the murder, Peck argued. Gearhart, according to Peck, knew the robbery’s intended victim carried drugs and cash and arranged for him to come to his home to be robbed. Prosecutors said Gearhart, Krinock and McGrath planned the robbery in retaliation for a verbal slight made against Krinock a month earlier.
“He (Gearhart) was involved. They (Krinock and McGrath) thought he was involved, and they were going to pay him for it,” Peck said.
McNerny was not part of the robbery plot or its intended victim. Witnesses said he was shot when he attempted to stop the robbery in front of Gearhart’s St. Clair Street home by a masked man identified as McGrath.
Police contended McGrath fled after the shooting. Krinock and Gearhart waited about 10 minutes before they called for help to assist a wounded McNerny so they could remove evidence of drugs from the home, Peck said.
“This man is bleeding to death and he can be saved. This defendant doesn’t care about that. He’s thinking about what’s important to him,” Peck told jurors.
Gearhart did not testify during the four-day trial and the defense presented no witnesses.
Defense attorney Michael DeMatt argued there was no direct evidence that linked Gearhart to the robbery plot. While police said Gearhart confessed to helping arrange the robbery, DeMatt told jurors his client made no admission he was involved with the plot. DeMatt said that in a recorded portion of the police interrogation, played for jurors during the trial, Gearhart never confessed to plotting the robbery.
“There was a bunch of irresponsible teens and young men there that night, and two of these guys had a plan to rob another. Something happened and everyone panicked,” DeMatt argued. “Colin was simply not part of this plan. Was he aware of it? Yes.”
Both Krinock and McGrath have been convicted of second-degree murder in connection with McNerny’s death. Krinock, 19, of Johnstown is serving a 34-year to life prison sentence. McGrath, 23, of Latrobe is expected to be sentenced next month to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .