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Connellsville homicide trial set to open

| Monday, June 5, 2006

Brian Watson has never denied throwing a punch that knocked John Finnerty Jr. to the pavement on July 2, 2004.

But Watson has refuted some witness accounts that he was the aggressor in a brief fight outside the Paint Room in Connellsville.

This week, a Fayette County jury will be asked to decide whether Watson should be held criminally responsible for the head injuries that led Finnerty's family to remove him from life support one day after the encounter.

Watson, 31, of Dunbar Township, goes on trial this morning in Uniontown on a charge of criminal homicide.

Finnerty, of Everson, was a 33-year-old pipefitter who was hanging out at the bar early that morning with his brother and some friends. Several patrons gave Connellsville police conflicting accounts as to whether Finnerty yelled at Watson before Watson left the bar.

In an interview with police, Watson claimed that Finnerty had beaten him up years earlier because of an argument about a girl.

Watson and some of his friends who were at the bar that night told police that Finnerty came at Watson outside the bar but that Watson swung at Finnerty to defend himself.

Finnerty's friends described Watson as the attacker who struck Finnerty while he was motionless on the ground and bleeding from the head, according to police reports.

In December, Judge Steve P. Leskinen ruled that prosecutors had enough evidence to try the homicide case but lacked the evidence to show that Watson intended to kill Finnerty when he allegedly knocked him down.

Finnerty's family has initiated a civil case on the victim's behalf. In May, a lawsuit was filed against Watson, the Connellsville Parking Authority, city government and several individuals, including the owner of the Paint Room. A complaint detailing the allegations has not been filed.

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