Arnold man convicted in fatal New Kensington shooting
A Westmoreland County jury on Saturday morning convicted an Arnold man of first-degree murder in the shooting of a New Kensington man.
Jurors began deliberations about 7 p.m. Friday in the murder trial of Raymond Rivera, 37, and returned the verdict shortly before 1:30 a.m. to Westmoreland County Judge Rita Hathaway.
Rivera fatally shot John Evans, 37, of New Kensington on Oct. 20, 2011, at Central City Plaza in New Kensington.
Evans was shot twice, including a fatal shot that went through his neck. Rivera then turned his weapon on Willie Young, 42, of New Kensington, who was hit in the arm and leg by two bullets.
Rivera testified Friday that he shot in self-defense, but the jury of seven men and five women rejected that claim.
He was found guilty of first-degree murder, attempted homicide in the shooting of Young, two counts of aggravated assault and a gun charge. Rivera, who was convicted in a robbery 20 years ago, is not permitted to possess a firearm.
He showed no emotion as the verdict was returned. He faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment and will be formally sentenced in about three months.
At 9:30 p.m., jurors returned to the courtroom to ask to listen again to a 911 call made during the shooting from an employee cowering in fear at the Family Dollar store in the plaza and instructions from the judge on the definition of first-degree murder. They asked to view again videos taken from nearby surveillance cameras. The judge met those requests.
Just before midnight, jurors told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree homicide count.
The judge asked them if they would like to continue deliberations or return later Saturday morning. They decided to continue deliberating.
Throughout two hours of testimony, Rivera contended that he fired the shots because he believed that both Evans and Young had guns and possibly had fired at him first.
“I really didn't want to do it. I was forced to,” Rivera testified. “I see him pull the gun out, and he turns around and comes at me with a gun pointed towards me, so I just pulled the trigger.”
Although no weapons were found at the scene, a cellphone was found near Evans, according to trial testimony.
Rivera and defense attorneys Chris Haidze and Jack Mandarino were asking jurors to either acquit him or convict him of first-degree murder, discarding other verdict possibilities such as manslaughter.
In a closing argument, Mandarino said Evans and Young both may have had weapons and their friends at the plaza could have picked them up before police arrived.
“Raymond Rivera was in fear,” Mandarino argued.
The defense claimed Evans and Rivera had an ongoing feud that had been simmering for months.
Rivera, a barber, worked in a shop across the street from a clothing store where Evans was employed in New Kensington.
The two men got into an argument just hours before the shooting, according to the defense.
Rivera testified he feared Evans and Young, who had moved to the area from New York City.
Rivera, a former professional boxer, told jurors he was born in Puerto Rico and lived in Reading before moving to Arnold in 2010.
Assistant District Attorney Larry Koenig told jurors that Rivera planned to shoot and kill Evans.
The prosecution contended Rivera was enraged after hearing rumors that his girlfriend had been cheating on him with Rivera.
The deadly encounter started when Rivera's girlfriend, April Cevario, started yelling at Evans when the two saw each other in the plaza parking lot.
Koenig said Rivera, who was spying on his girlfriend, saw the encounter, retrieved his gun and took Evans down.
“This is without a doubt a textbook case of deliberate, intentional murder,” Koenig said.
Cevario testified she saw Evans with a gun and he threatened to kill both her and Rivera.
Koenig told jurors there was no evidence that Evans, Young or any of the three men with them that night had a gun.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.