Jury delivers swift verdict in Fayette murder
A Fayette County jury on Thursday rejected a claim of self-defense and handed down a first-degree murder conviction against Torey V. Peterson, 23, of Allison, Redstone Township, in the January death of a Greene County man.
After just two days of testimony, the jury took less than three hours to reach its verdict and convict Peterson in the Jan. 11 shooting death of William F. Mason, of Jefferson.
The jury of six men and six women rejected the defense claim that Peterson was simply protecting himself from a stranger when he shot Mason once in the head in an apartment in the Hunter's Ridge public housing project in Redstone Township.
During the trial, Assistant Public Defender David Kaiser attempted to show that it was Mason who initiated the confrontation that led to his death when he barged into the apartment that was occupied by Peterson and several others.
The prosecution, led by District Attorney Nancy Vernon, claimed throughout the trial that Peterson intended to kill Mason, and then, after the shooting, tried to get rid of the gun and the spent shell casing.
Immediately after the verdict was announced, Fayette County Judge Gerald Solomon instructed the jury that the death sentence was not an option in the case because there were no aggravating circumstances.
Solomon then directed the jury to deliberate once more and return with a sentence of life in prison, an action that took the jury just a few minutes.
From the time the verdict was first read, Peterson sat with his head down on the defense table, not raising it even when the judge imposed the life sentence, which is to be served in a state correctional facility.
After the sentencing, Peterson was led from the courtroom in handcuffs. He made no comment, nor did he acknowledge the presence of about a half-dozen family members.
Peterson's mother, Tonya Groomes, was clearly upset with the verdict.
"This is a prejudiced jury in 'Fayette-nam,'" Groomes said outside the courtroom. "The system is corrupt all the way from the township police to the Fayette courthouse."
While Kaiser said he plans to appeal the conviction, both Vernon and Mason's family indicated they were satisfied with the jury's decision.
"The commonwealth is pleased with the verdict," Vernon said. "It was a tough decision for the jury to make. There was a lot of evidence for them to review."
Mason's mother, Dolores Mason, said, "I'm just happy we got justice for Billy."