Officer's wrenching final moments open trial
Relatives and friends of a slain state trooper cried Monday in Allegheny County Court as prosecutors played a recording of Cpl. Joseph Pokorny's final radio transmissions.
Pokorny asked a dispatcher to run a license plate of a speeding car he was chasing on Dec. 12, 2005. Then, distressed and breathing heavily, he reported being in the parking lot of the ExtendedStay America motel off the Parkway West in Carnegie.
"I'm going inbound in the parking lot now," said Pokorny, 45.
Minutes later, prosecutors say, the 22-year state police veteran and father of two was fatally shot with his own gun. Leslie D. Mollett, 32, of Knoxville, is accused of driving the speeding car and gunning down Pokorny execution-style.
Mollett could face the death penalty if he is convicted.
Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli told jurors in opening arguments that Mollett got out of the car, along with two other men, and was upset that Pokorny pulled him over.
After a scuffle, Mollett used Pokorny's gun to fire a shot into the trooper's chest, Tranquilli said. The shot entered from the side, missing the bullet-proof vest and traveling through both lungs. Pokorny dropped to his knees with his hands in the air and Mollett shot him in the back of the head, Tranquilli said.
"That man, Leslie Denier Mollett, known to his friends as 'Loco,' decided to shoot Trooper Joseph Pokorny two times, shooting him to death," Tranquilli said. "Joe Pokorny had no idea what he was getting into that night, and when he figured it out, it was too late."
Pokorny complicated backup efforts when he mistakenly told a dispatcher that he was at an ExtendedStay America along Rodi Road. Rodi Road is in Penn Hills -- about 20 miles northeast of Carnegie.
Defense attorney John Elash called Tranquilli's opening argument ridiculous.
"If you convict my client on a smoke screen, that's not justice. Nobody can tell you what happened at the scene because they weren't there," Elash said. "Nobody saw this kneeling down execution killing. Nobody saw the shots being fired.
"There's an undercurrent of seething emotion they want you to get caught up in. We have a dead police officer and a black defendant. Justice is making them prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."
Tranquilli pointed to a trail of evidence that links Mollett to the shooting, including the defendant's DNA found on a fur coat. Police found at the scene an inhaler, a tassel cap and a black gun that belonged to Mollett. Pokorny's gun -- which prosecutors say was used to kill him -- has never been found.
The other two men in Mollett's car, Jabar James and Phillip Peterson, told police that they fled as Mollett argued with the trooper and that they heard gunshots as they ran, Tranquilli said.
Tranquilli said Pokorny's blood was on a cell phone found at the South Side house of Mollett's girlfriend, Charise Cheatom. Mollett was arrested at Cheatom's home after a standoff with police. Mollett had a scratch across his face when he was arrested.
"Joe Pokorny marked his killer by scratching his face and by following his blood," Tranquilli said.
Tranquilli contended that Pokorny was shot because Mollett was carrying a gun -- a violation of his parole -- and that Mollett and his friends were involved in a heroin deal at the motel.
Mollett was wearing a dark brown shirt and pants and smiled at family and friends as he entered and left the packed courtroom. More than 20 state troopers -- out of uniform -- and Pokorny's family, including his mother, Florence, filled one side of the courtroom, while Mollett's family filled the opposite side.
Several of the troopers held their heads in their hands as the jury of eight men and four women were shown pictures of Pokorny's blood-soaked body.
Elash attacked the credibility of the pictures after one of them showed blood on the left side of Pokorny's face, while another showed the blood on the right side.
Carnegie police Sgt. Mark Lint, the first person to discover Pokorny, said he came across the state police cruiser with its lights on, door open and no one inside.
"It kind of gave me a sick feeling inside," Lint said. "Initially, when I turned around, I didn't see the trooper. Then I started walking towards the hotel. That's when I saw the corporal's body."
Mollett's mother, Brenda Banks, said she was there to support her son.
"It's not hard at all (to be here)," Banks said. "That's my son."
The trial is expected to last a month, with more than 60 witnesses and 200 exhibits, including ballistic evidence, photographs and clothing, Tranquilli said.
Proceedings were delayed by more than two hours yesterday because Common Pleas Judge Lawrence J. O'Toole had to replace a juror who, after some weekend soul-searching, decided she could not sentence someone to death.