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Fayette coroner's jury recommends shooting death re-examination

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County coroner's jury has recommended that Perryopolis police re-examine a 2012 shooting death that was ruled a suicide.

The jury made the recommendation on Wednesday following a daylong inquest into the July 17, 2012, death of Stephen M. Tomko, 53.

Tomko's wife, Gale, testified she and her husband slept in different rooms and she called 911 upon finding her husband unresponsive in his bed the morning of his death. He was pronounced dead at the scene of a single gunshot wound to the head and the coroner, Dr. Phillip Reilly, ruled the death a suicide after an autopsy.

Tomko's sister, Susan Gaisbacher of Charleroi, testified she had not spoken with her brother “in a while” leading up to his death, but she questioned the suicide ruling after speaking with his friends.

“I just want justice here,” Gaisbacher testified. “That's all I'm asking here.”

Eight of Tomko's friends testified the man was not depressed and gave no indication he was considering suicide. Roy Conaway Jr. testified the night prior to Tomko's death, Tomko told him of plans to ask his stepson to leave the house.

“He said if his wife didn't like it, she could go, too,” Conaway testified.

Gale Tomko testified her husband had trouble sleeping in the days prior to his death and told her he was distressed over nightmares involving his late father. In addition, Gale Tomko testified her husband expressed concern over always helping others in need, but finding no one to help him when he needed help.

“I loved my husband,” a tearful Gale Tomko testified. “I don't know why he would do this.”

Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychologist, told jurors after listening to the testimony that Tomko did not meet most of the 10 factors considered when trying to determine if an individual is suicidal. He was not depressed, she said, had not spoken of suicide to his friends, and was not withdrawn or acting recklessly.

But Ramsland said discovery of the handgun near Stephen Tomko's armpit does not point toward a staged suicide. If someone had staged the scene to make it appear as if Tomko had shot himself, they likely would have placed the gun closer to one of his hands, she said.

The eight-person coroner's jury deliberated for approximately 30 minutes before recommending that Perryopolis police further investigate the death. They want police to submit the handgun for ballistics tests, examine computer and phone records and question neighbors regarding any suspicious cars or noises on the night of Tomko's death.

Reilly said he will notify the Perryopolis Police Department of the jury's recommendation.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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