Rose family lawyer, S. Lee Merritt, left, and Michelle Kenney, center, mother of Antwon Rose II, walk in the direction of the members of the media after closing arguments in the murder trial of the former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, Friday 22 March 2019. at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. A jury has begun deliberations in the murder trial of Rosfeld, a white former police officer charged with the killing of Rose, an unarmed black teenager outside of Pittsburgh last summer.(Nate Smallwood/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via AP, Pool)
PITTSBURGH – A jury began deliberating Friday on whether a white former police officer was “judge, jury and executioner” when he shot an unarmed black teenager in the back, as the prosecutors claimed, or was justified in using deadly force to stop a fleeing suspect who he said he was seen as a threat.
Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld fired at 17-year-old Antwon Rose II last summer outside of Pittsburgh in a murder that him weeks of unrest.
Rosfeld, 30, shot Rose in the back, arm and side of the face after pulling over an illegal taxi that was used in a drive-by shooting. Rosfeld ordered the driver on the ground, but Rose and another passenger got out and started to walk away.
Jurors saw video of the fatal confrontation, which showed that the Rose fall on the ground after being hit.
Assistant district Attorney Jonathan Fodi explained in his closing argument Friday that Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner.”
Rosfeld would have waited for back-up or given chase, Fodi said, adding that teenagers sometimes also of the police. “Is it silly? Yes. Does it deserve death? No. Is it reasonable? Absolutely not,” Fodi said. “There was no need for the use of deadly force.”
Rosfeld told the jury that he thought that Rose and the other passenger had a gun. The defense said that the shooting was justified because Rosfeld, believed that he was in danger, and could not wait for the other officers to get there.
“He is a sitting duck,” attorney Patrick Thomassey told jurors in his closing, asking them to consider “the standard of what a reasonable police officer would do under the circumstances.”
Prosecutors charged Rosfeld with an open count of murder, meaning the jury can convince him of murder or manslaughter.
The defense asked the Judge Alexander Bicket acquit Rosfeld of all charges, but the judge rejected.
“We believe that the jury enough information to come to the right conclusion: that Antwon Rose is murdered,” the family’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, told The Associated Press in a courthouse hallway. Merritt said: “it is quite clear,” Rose was not a threat for Rosfeld.
Rose had ridden in the passenger seat of the cab with one other occupant in the back, Zaijuan Hester, a window rolled down and shot at two people on the street, hitting one in the abdomen. A few minutes later, Rosfeld spotted their car, which had its rear window shot out, and pulled it on.
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.
At the beginning of the trial the fourth day, Friday, a defence expert, retired Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Clifford W. Jobe, Jr., back to the stand and repeated his belief that Rosfeld followed his training when he shot Roos.
Under cross-examination, Jobe agreed with Fodi that a police officer can lie, in conflict with the law or are unreasonable. He also agreed with the prosecutor that, in certain circumstances, it is reasonable to refrain from shooting, or to disengage from a situation.
But Jobe said that Rosfeld was in his rights to use “deadly force” to stop the fleeing suspects he thought had been involved in a shooting.
“What has Michael Rosfeld error do on June 19?” asked Thomassey, the attorney.
“I don’t think he did anything wrong. He was following his training,” Jobe replied.
A day earlier, Rosfeld testified that he thought that Rose and the other passenger had pointed a gun at him. Neither teen was holding a gun at the moment, although two guns were later found in the car.
“It happened very quickly,” Rosfeld said. “My intention was to put an end to the threat that was made against me.”
Prosecutors say Rosfeld has given inconsistent statements about the shooting, including whether he thought that Rose was armed.
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.” Another prosecution witness said that he heard the officer ask, “Why did he do that? Why did he, out of his pocket?”
In his conclusion, Fodi, said the video evidence shows “there was no threat” to Rosfeld, who he said was “squared up” on the taxi “with a lot of time to do something about it.”
“We don’t have to shoot first and ask questions later,” Fodi said.
But Thomassey said officers of justice to a single witness “to say that Michael Rosfeld did not do what he had to do. She knew that he was doing was by the book.”
A juror, a white woman, who had taken copious notes, was dismissed from the panel last Friday, and replaced by a white man. No reason was given for her resignation. The jury now consists of seven men and five women. There are three black members of the jury.
Also Friday, Bicket lifted a gag order that he imposed on the parties in the case. Thomassey’s request, saying that while he and the prosecutor had kept to the court order, the attorney of Rose’s family did not. Merritt brought a letter to the media this week that Rose’s mother wrote to prosecutors urging them to show what a “kind, loving and funny” person her son was.