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Westmoreland DA to seek death penalty in police officer shooting

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, March 24, 2016, 12:09 p.m.
Ray Shetler Jr. is led into the Ligonier office of Magisterial District Judge Denise L. Snyder Thiel on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Ray Shetler Jr. is led into the Ligonier office of Magisterial District Judge Denise L. Snyder Thiel on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015.

Ray Shetler Jr. of New Florence could get the death penalty if convicted for the fatal shooting of a St. Clair police officer in November.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck filed notice Thursday that he will seek the death penalty against the 31-year-old accused of killing Officer Lloyd Reed Jr., 54. Peck cited that Reed being killed in the line of duty was the aggravating circumstance needed for his decision.

Reed's wife, Rosemarie, and his family members met with Peck at the courthouse prior to his announcement.

“They didn't oppose it; they weren't vocally for the death penalty,” Peck said Thursday. “They were looking to the DA's office to make the decision.”

Reed was shot and killed when the officer responded to a domestic violence call at 9:15 p.m. Nov. 28 at Shetler's home. Shetler's girlfriend made the call to report that he was intoxicated and she wanted him to leave. Investigators allege Shetler and Reed exchanged gunfire on the front lawn along Ligonier Street.

With a gunshot wound to his shoulder, Shetler allegedly swam across the Conemaugh River to elude capture after other police officers arrived. He was arrested while walking along a road near a power plant at 3:30 a.m. Nov. 29. Investigators recovered the rifle believed to have been used in Reed's death along the river, hidden in thick brush with a bloody sweatshirt and ammunition.

Shetler told police he didn't know the person firing a gun at him outside his home was a police officer, according to preliminary hearing testimony. Police said Shetler fired three rounds and Reed shot six times.

Shetler's attorney, Marc Daffner, said mitigating circumstances exist for his client, but he declined to elaborate.

“I figured this would happen,” Daffner said about the death penalty announcement. “It doesn't change the facts of the case. Unless he's convicted, then it really changes nothing.”

To seek the death penalty, prosecutors must first secure a conviction on first-degree murder. If that occurs, then the case moves into the sentencing phase, during which a district attorney must convince a jury that aggravating circumstances about the crime outweigh mitigating factors. Peck said in the filing that he plans to present victim impact testimony at the time of sentencing if Shetler is convicted.

The decision to seek the death penalty is something prosecutors consider “very carefully,” Peck said, but he thinks it's the right decision in Shetler's case.

Shetler has a pretrial conference scheduled March 31, but Peck said such cases take a long time before they are brought to trial.

“There's really two trials that you need to be prepared for,” he said about seeking a conviction and then death penalty approval.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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