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McKeesport man cleared in Sutersville bar shooting

| Thursday, April 26, 2012, 1:27 a.m.

A McKeesport man was found not guilty of attempted homicide and related charges Thursday by a Westmoreland County jury in a shooting that left two men wounded at a Sutersville bar.

Michael Rohaley, 48, was on trial for shooting Brian Johnston and Bobby Crosby during a brawl at Sheree's Tavern on April 22, 2008. Johnston, 25, of Maine was hit three times, once in the stomach and twice in the left shoulder. Crosby, of Smithton, suffered a minor wound in the shoulder.

Crosby, who is black, and Johnston claimed the confrontation was racial, but Rohaley testified that a group of men were causing trouble and that he shot at them in self-defense.

Rohaley also was acquitted of three counts of aggravated assault, two counts of simple assault and two counts of recklessly endangering another person.

In testimony yesterday, Rohaley said he was at Sheree's when stepbrothers Johnston and Crosby showed up with two friends. Rohaley said Johnston and Crosby started trouble about 15 minutes after entering the bar. He said Johnston asked the bartender if she "wanted to (expletive)" with his ring while holding his hand out in front of her, and Crosby threatened to "shank" Rohaley. He said the four men were "scouring the bar," looking for trouble.

Rohaley said he heard bartender Penny Littleton tell the men to leave after one apparently said something to her daughter. He said the men refused, turning to the patrons and daring anyone to try to throw them out. Littleton then used pepper spray.

"All hell broke loose at this point," Rohaley said. "It was complete chaos."

The group of men, including Johnston and Crosby, were driven toward the door and pushed out by patrons. Rohaley said the men then started throwing large rocks through the door, striking Littleton in the head and hitting others.

Rohaley said patrons inside the bar managed to get the door shut when the window and frame above the door were broken by what sounded like a shotgun blast. An arm came through the window wielding a knife and moving in a "slashing motion," Rohaley said. He said that person pulled his arm out, but a second arm came through and grabbed a patron by the side of the face and hair, lifting him up off the ground.

"All I could picture was a knife coming over and slashing someone's throat," said Rohaley, who was holding back tears as he testified.

At that point, Rohaley said he felt he had no choice but to draw his weapon, a .45-caliber Beretta semiautomatic, and fire through the door.

"I had to make a choice of saving my life and other people's lives or having them get back in the building," Rohaley said. "(Had the men entered the building again) it could have been a bloodbath."

In his closing statements to the jury, defense attorney Michael DeRiso said the physical evidence supported his client's case that the group of "thugs" outside the bar were looking to cause trouble, saying they had an "animal's mindset."

"They wanted to get back in the bar and do as much damage as possible," DeRiso said.

After the jury's verdict was read, Assistant District Attorney Allen Powanda said he felt Rohaley's decision to fire his weapon was unnecessary.

"The individuals were on the outside of a locked door," he said. "Obviously, our contention is the use of force was not necessary."

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