Jury finds Latrobe man guilty of second-degree murder in 2016 fatal robbery
It took a Westmoreland County jury just one hour Thursday afternoon to convict a Latrobe man of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of his friend.
The jury of eight men and four women found Zachary McGrath guilty in the Jan. 20, 2016, shooting death of Daniel McNerny in front of a home on St. Clair Street. McGrath, 23, also was convicted of robbery, conspiracy and a firearms offense.
He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio said she will sentence McGrath in about three months.
McGrath’s defense attorney argued earlier Thursday for an acquittal, saying the killing was the result of an accident.
“He never had any intention of killing Mr. McNerny. Why would he? They were friends,” Public Defender Wayne McGrew said in his closing argument.
More than a dozen witnesses testified during the three-day trial that McGrath wore a mask and fired two shots at McNerny as he attempted to intervene in a robbery against two Pittsburgh-area drug dealers.
McNerny was not the target of the robbery or part of a group of three men that prosecutors said planned the heist.
Police said McGrath and two others stole more than $12,000 from a Pittsburgh man who traveled to Latrobe to collect a debt and sell them drugs.
McNerny came outside to help when he learned that a masked man was holding two men at gunpoint, according to the prosecution.
Witnesses said he identified McGrath by his voice and attempted to disarm him during a physical confrontation.
McGrew argued McGrath’s gun accidentally discharged as he and McNerny wrestled for the weapon during the robbery.
“They got into a fight and were fighting over the gun when it went off. How do we know whose finger was on the trigger?” McGrew asked jurors.
McGrath did not testify. The defense presented one witness, a St. Clair Street resident who claimed she heard two rapid fire shots just before the killing.
The prosecution contended a masked McGrath meant to kill McNerny after having been identified by him as the robber.
District Attorney John Peck asked jurors to find McGrath guilty of first-degree murder, which is a killing committed during the course of another felony, robbery and conspiracy.
“I’m arguing this is a first-degree murder,” Peck said. “The defendant needed to maintain the mask on his face, the secrecy who he was. That’s why he shot Daniel McNerny.”
Two other men were charged for their alleged roles in plotting the fatal robbery.
Austin Krinock, 20, of Johnstown was convicted by a Westmoreland County jury last year of second-degree murder, robbery and conspiracy. He is serving 34 years to life in prison.
Colin Gearhart, 20, of Latrobe is charged with the same offenses. His trial is scheduled to begin in March.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter .