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Defense implies son, not husband, killed woman

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, May 14, 2012, 4:53 p.m.

Without actually saying the words, a defense attorney for Anton 'Tony' Tornowske, a West Newton man accused of killing his wife during a murder-suicide attempt last winter, implicated the couple's son as the gunman.

Defense attorney Robert Donahoe told a Westmoreland County jury Thursday during the first day of Tornowske's first-degree murder trial that Matthew Tornowske, 22, had both the opportunity and motive to commit matricide.

Prosecutors contend Anton Tornowske, 52, was despondent over the couple's impending breakup and intentionally shot his wife once in the chest before attempting to commit suicide.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Anton Tornowske faces a mandatory life prison sentence.

The defense, though, is seeking an acquittal based on the theory that Anton Tornowske did not fire the shots that killed his wife and injured him.

In his opening statement, Donahoe never actually said Matthew Tornowske was the gunman who killed his mother and wounded his father but strongly implicated that he was shooter. Donahoe also suggested that police botched the investigation and ignored evidence that would exonerate his client.

Karen Tornowske, 47, a psychologist who worked for the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, was found dead Dec. 5, 1999, in the laundry room of the family's home at 1019 Vine St. Her husband was found lying just several feet away with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Matthew Tornowske was upstairs at the time of the shooting and called 911 to summon police, prosecutors contend.

'He had a very difficult, tumultuous and at times violent relationship with his mother,' Donahoe said of Matthew Tornowske.

Donahoe said Matthew Tornowske suffered from mental illness and had been hospitalized five times over the 2 1/2 years prior to the shooting. He had returned from a hospital stay just days before the shooting, Donahoe said.

The mother-son relationship had deteriorated so much that Karen Tornowske had threatened to evict her son from the family home, call the police and have him hospitalized again.

At one point, Matthew Tornowske threatened his mother with a knife, Donahoe said.

'Death threats were not uncommon but rather frequent,' Donahoe said.

Prosecutors have a far different theory of the case, based chiefly on three confessions Anton Tornowske gave shortly after the shooting.

And to blunt the anticipated defense strategy, Assistant District Attorney Tom Grace asked jurors to disbelieve any notion that Matthew Tornowske was involved in the shooting.

'Pointing the finger at his son only makes the crime in this case that much more despicable,' Grace said.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to call Matthew Tornowske as a witness, Grace said.

Authorities contend Anton Tornowske, a former mining engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, used a 16-gauge shotgun to shoot his wife once in the chest.

He then pushed the weapon into his own midsection and fired a shot that critically wounded him, leaving him unable to walk without assistance.

Grace said prosecutors will show during the two-week trial that Anton Tornowske was upset about the couple's impending separation and had told friends hours before the shooting about their breakup.

Grace said there is no evidence that anyone other than Anton Tornowske killed his wife.

'Karen Tornowske was not murdered by a thief or a burglar or someone who broke into the house. She was murdered by a man who swore he would love her the rest of his life - her husband, Anton Tornowske,' Grace said.

Two police officers testified yesterday that as Tornowske lay on the floor before he was taken to the hospital, he confessed to shooting his wife.

West Newton police Officer Michael Banda got to the scene just minutes after the shooting. Banda said he met Matthew Tornowske at the door. He did not appear to have blood on his clothes, Banda testified.

Banda went downstairs and found both husband and wife with gunshot wounds. Anton Tornowske appeared to still be alive, with a shotgun on the floor next to his right knee. As Banda checked for a pulse on Karen Tornowske, her husband made the first of his confessions.

'Mr. Tornowske said, 'I shot her,'' Banda testified. Tornowske also requested that authorities take care of his two children, the officer said.

'I apologize. It shouldn't have ended like this,' Banda testified Anton Tornowske confessed to him.

Rostraver police Sgt. John Christner then arrived. Tornowske told him that he was responsible for the shooting, Christner said.

'I asked what happened, and he said, 'I shot her,'' Christner testified.

The trial before Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. is expected to reconvene this morning.

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