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Witnesses testify in deadly shooting

| Tuesday, July 8, 2003

The attorney for a former Fayette County man accused of fatally shooting a neighbor last fall told jurors his client acted in self-defense, despite testimony from an eyewitness who described the incident as a cold-blooded murder.

Tyrique K. “Ghetto” Patterson, 23, of Trenton, N.J., formerly of South Hills Terrace, Brownsville, is charged with homicide in the Nov. 29 death of 25-year-old Tony Thomas.

Thomas died of a single gunshot wound of the neck after the 3:21 a.m. shooting at South Hills Terrace, a housing project where both men resided.

Patterson's jury trial began Monday before Fayette County President Judge Conrad B. Capuzzi. Patterson also is charged with robbery of a motor vehicle and criminal trespass in connection with the fatal shooting.

Police allege that, after the shooting, Patterson forced a woman at gunpoint from a car, then fled to his mother's residence in Trenton. He turned himself in to police there after learning Thomas had died.

Patterson's attorney, William Diffenderfer, of Pittsburgh, told jurors his client fired on Thomas because he feared for his life. Diffenderfer said testimony later this week will reveal Thomas threatened Patterson with bodily harm after a bar fight between Patterson and Thomas' younger brother, Justin.

District Attorney Nancy Vernon is seeking a first-degree murder conviction.

Justin Thomas, 24, of Brownsville, testified that, shortly before the shooting, he and Patterson came to blows when Patterson refused to remove his hat while inside the Brownsville Elks club. He said one of his aunts who worked at the club had asked Patterson to take off the hat.

The younger Thomas said he and Patterson wrestled for nearly three minutes before other bar patrons broke up the fight. Acquaintances separated the men, escorting Patterson outside and forcing Justin Thomas to stay indoors while the bar cleared out for the evening.

Tony Thomas arrived at the club after a friend, 22-year-old Jacob R. Hackett, of Brownsville, called to tell him his brother had been in a fight. Hackett said he wanted Thomas to take his brother out of the bar to prevent another altercation.

Hackett said he and Thomas left in separate vehicles for South Hills Terrace without Justin. Hackett said he arrived first, finding Patterson and a handgun-waving woman, Tamika Withrow, on the lawn outside Patterson's apartment.

Thomas' cousin, Don Durant, 36, of Brownsville, said another cousin asked him to ride with Thomas from the bar to the housing plan. He said Withrow pointed the handgun at an unarmed Thomas, threatening to harm anyone who was “messing with her man.”

Durant said when Thomas questioned Patterson about the bar fight, Patterson stepped forward, pulled a gun from his waistband and fired.

“He pulled the gun from his pants,” Durant said. “Pow! I'm looking right at him, and the gun went off.”

The bullet whizzed past Durant before striking Thomas in the neck.

Durant said gunpowder sprayed his face and clothing. He said he has yet to wash the gunpowder from the shirt he wore the night of the shooting. “He shot my cousin in cold blood,” Durant said. “That was cold-blooded. It wasn't even right.”

Durant said he believes his cousin died immediately. Hackett said blood was shooting from Thomas' neck wound, despite his efforts to stem the flow.

Hackett said that, after the shooting, Patterson forced two people at gunpoint out of a car that had just entered the housing complex. Patterson then fled in the car.

Durant was visibly agitated during extensive cross-examination by Diffenderfer, at times raising his voice or rising from the witness stand to act out his testimony.

Testimony in the case is to resume this morning.

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