Michelle Kenney, left, the mother of Antwon Rose II, leaves the Allegheny County Courthouse with her attorney S. Lee Merritt, right, after day two of the trial for Michael Rosfeld, a former police officer in East Pittsburgh, Pa., Wednesday, 20 March 2019. Rosfeld is charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Antwon Rose II as he fled during a traffic stop on June 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH – A white former police officer said Thursday that he thought was a weapon was aimed at him, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager outside of Pittsburgh last summer.
Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld took the stand at his murder trial and insisted he was in fear for his life when he shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose, II.
Rosfeld, 30, got choked up and wiped away the tears as he recounted the finding of the fatally injured Rose to the ground.
“I was angry, shocked,” Rosfeld said. “He was moaning, trying to breathe.”
The former officer testified after the prosecution rested its case earlier Thursday. The prosecutors said Rosfeld gave inconsistent statements about the shooting, including whether he thought that Rose had a gun.
A prosecution witness has said that after the shooting, he heard Rosfeld say repeatedly, “I don’t know why I shot him. I don’t know why I fired.” But another prosecution witness said that he heard the officer ask, “Why did he do that? Why did he, out of his pocket?”
Rosfeld fired three bullets into the target after pulling over an illegal taxi, he suspected — rightly, as it turned out to be involved in a drive-by shooting. Rose, a passenger in the car, was shot in the back as he fled.
Rosfeld testified the car that Rose was had his behind-the-windshield shot. He beeped his siren and turned on his police lights, and the driver complied and pulled over. Rosfeld said he got out of his car with his gun drawn and ordered the driver on the ground.
That is when he said Rose and another resident, Zaijuan Hester, a “jump” of the car.
Demonstrate for the jury what the threatening gesture that he believed that he saw, Rosfeld stood up, raised his right arm to shoulder length and fully extended if the target of a weapon.
“It happened very quickly,” Rosfeld said. “My intention was to put an end to the threat that was made against me. I just wanted to put an end to the threat for me. I followed the threat and fired. I just saw that someone move, so I assumed the threat is still there.”
Asked by his lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, why he fired his gun, and not just the suspects get away, Rosfeld said, “Because I thought that one of them was pointing a weapon at me. They were dangerous criminal suspects. They had just fired a gun at someone.”
Rose had ridden in the passenger seat of the cab when Hester, on the back seat, a window rolled down and shot at two people on the street, hitting one in the abdomen.
Hester, 18, pleaded guilty last week to aggravated assault and firearms violations. Hester told a judge that he is not Rose, so did the shooting.
Earlier Thursday, Judge Alexander Bicket, rejected the defense motion to acquit Rosfeld on the murder counts he faces.
Prosecutors charged Rosfeld with an open count of murder, meaning the jury can convince Rosfeld of murder or manslaughter. The defense argued for a murder charge was not appropriate in the case.
“What we have is a police officer doing his duty. There is no hardness of heart is necessary for the first or third degree murder,” Thomassey argued before the court. “We have a series of three photos in one second on a fleeing felon and we’re going to charge him with murder? It’s not fair.”
Prosecutor Daniel Fitzsimmons said the fact that Rosfeld shot a took flight in the back was the proof of intent, and the judge ruled the murder counts would stand.
Rosfeld, the decision to testify was not unusual. At least three other white officers charged in the on-duty fatal shooting of black people have the witness stand in the past few years.
In October, a Chicago jury convicted ex-officer Jason van Dijk Of the murder in the shooting death of the teen Laquan McDonald. After the trial, jury members said Of Dyke’s testimony hurt his defense. Van Dijk was less than seven years in prison.
An officer in Balch Spring, Texas, was convicted of murder last August and sentenced to 15 years after the jury didn’t buy his explanation that he was trying to protect his partner when he shot into a car full of black teenagers, the beating of a 15-year-old.
And in 2017, a former South Carolina agent was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killing of an unarmed motorist. The officer pled guilty to federal civil rights charges following a state trial at which he testified, and the jury deadlocked.
Associated Press writer Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this story.