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Upper St. Clair dad held for trial in son's killing of twin

Jason Cato
| Thursday, March 19, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

The mother of an Upper St. Clair boy who fatally shot his twin brother told a judge Wednesday she warned her ex-husband to lock up his guns.

"It's not safe with kids in the house," Truc Phan said she told Michael Lanese before the Oct. 18 shooting.

Prosecutors say Lanese did not keep a rifle secured, and instead allowed his boys to handle and clean the gun that Stephen Lanese, 9, used to kill his brother Christian.

After hearing from Phan and what Stephen Lanese told Upper St. Clair police that day, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jill E. Rangos ordered Michael Lanese to stand trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Michael Lanese, 67, did not testify. His lawyer, David Cercone, said evidence will show his client was a good father who is not responsible for an accident.

"It was a terrible tragedy that he is certainly devastated over," Cercone said.

Phan, who said she gave Lanese custody of the children when they split up five years ago, testified her sons often complained about being hungry and that the utilities to Lanese's home were sometimes shut off. A neighbor gave similar testimony.

Phan testified her son was crying in the front yard when she arrived the day of the shooting.

Upper St. Clair police Cpl. Ronald Klein said he too encountered Stephen Lanese at the house.

The boy "was crying and screaming that he just shot his brother," Klein said.

Klein's voice broke and his eyes welled with tears when he spoke of how Christian died.

"Traumatic head injury," Klein said.

The boy told the officer that his father took them to an Oakdale-area flea market that morning in an unsuccessful attempt to sell three guns — a Browning shotgun, a .22-caliber rifle and the .348 rifle that fired the fatal shot.

Michael Lanese showed his sons how to clean the weapons and left them on a table, Klein said in recounting what Stephen told him. The father then read a book in the living room while the boys played.

At some point, Christian retrieved the weapons and took them to the master bedroom. He took a box of ammunition from a closet shelf and then loaded and unloaded the weapon, Stephen told the officer.

Stephen went next, loading four rounds of ammunition and taking four rounds out, Klein said.

"Then he pulled the trigger," Klein said, "and instead of hearing a 'click,' he heard a 'boom.'"

Klein and another officer testified that Michael Lanese hid the other two weapons in a nearby bedroom to keep police from seizing them.

Lanese needed to sell the weapons for money, Klein said.

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