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Teen recounts harrowing night her mother was murdered

| Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, 2:42 p.m.

Sharita Hicks was just 16 when she was jolted awake before 4 a.m. by her home's burglar alarm and banging sounds of someone breaking down multiple locked doors to get upstairs.

After closing and locking her bedroom door in a panic, she watched through the crack beneath her door as the intruder broke down the door across the hall and fired four or five shots, killing her mother, Loretta Jackson, 65. The intruder fled, and Hicks hid in her room until police arrived.

“They asked if I knew anyone who would want to hurt my mom, and I said yes,” Hicks testified Tuesday in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. “Andre Ruffin.”

Ruffin, 40, of Munhall was on trial Tuesday before Common Pleas Judge Thomas Flaherty on charges that he killed Jackson in April 2013 over whether Ruffin could inherit a house from his late girlfriend, Jackson's elder daughter.

Hicks, now 19, said the family's relationship with Ruffin had been good until her sister, Leicia Jackson, died of leukemia in 2012 and Ruffin began fighting with Loretta Jackson over her estate.

Loretta Jackson was acting more and more afraid as the dispute went on, Hicks said, and had barred the teenager from answering the door or going to her window at night because she feared Ruffin was “creeping” around the West Mifflin house.

They had an alarm system they set even when they were at home and awake, locking screen doors with bars and locks on interior doors, such as one between the garage and the basement and one between the basement stairs and the kitchen.

Hicks said she heard the alarm go off at 3:53 a.m. April 11 and then the banging of someone coming up from the basement, breaking down the locked doors along the way. She said she fumbled with her bedroom door's lock at first because she accidentally left her keys in the lock on the outside, and had to reopen her door to get them.

Hicks then got on the floor and peered beneath her door as she called 911, whispering because she didn't want the intruder to hear her. The hall light went on, and she heard banging — first her mother's door being broken, then what she thought was a sledgehammer but later realized was gunfire. As the shooter left, she said she saw a pair of black boots, a glimpse of a white sock and a hairy, dark-skinned leg.

A doctor from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office testified that Jackson died of four gunshots to her back, though they appeared to be from two guns. Hicks said she heard only one person in her house that morning.

Hicks told police about her mother's dispute with Ruffin, but he was not charged until 2015 when another girlfriend talked to police.

“She must have mentioned Andre Ruffin 50 times,” said West Mifflin police Officer Gregory McCulloch, who transported Hicks from the house to his police station.

McCulloch and his partner said several doors had been forced open, starting at the half-open garage door and leading up to Jackson's bedroom, and the fresh smell of gunpowder hit them as soon as they came upstairs from the basement. The alarm control panel had been torn from the wall and thrown to the floor, McCulloch said.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney Lisa Middleman, Hicks said her relationship with Ruffin had been good and they stayed in contact, even after her sister died and he started fighting with her mother.

“Any other information you got about what Andre did, what Andre stole, what a horrible person Andre was; that came from your mother,” Middleman said.

Hicks said two of her older brothers had been barred from living with Jackson after violent domestic incidents, but she had not mentioned them to investigators.

Ruffin's bench trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday; he is serving a 25-year federal prison term for illegally possessing a firearm.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412 391 0927 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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