Pennsylvania prosecutor focuses on officer's motive in murder trial

By David DeKok
FILE PHOTO: Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, 30, charged with homicide in the shooting death last week of an unarmed black teenager, is seen in this Allegheny County District Attorney photo released from Pennsylvania, U.S., June 27, 2018. Courtesy Allegheny County District Attorney/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By David DeKok

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania prosecutor on Tuesday urged jurors in the racially-charged trial of a white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Antwon Rose in June 2018 to focus on what motivated him to pull the trigger.

East Pittsburgh Police officer, Michael Rosfeld, 30, does not dispute shooting Rose, 17, as he sought suspects following a drive-by shooting.

The incident, one of a number of U.S. shootings that raised questions about police use of force and racial justice, sparked several nights of protests in Pittsburgh.

Rosfeld faces a single count of homicide.

"Only this is disputed: What was on the mind of Michael Rosfeld when he shot and killed another human being," Dan Fitzsimmons, an assistant Allegheny County district attorney, said in his opening statement. "There may be many other things brought up that have nothing to do with his state of mind."

The prosecutor acknowledged that Rose, who was shot three times as he ran away from Rosfeld, was in a car involved in the shooting minutes before he died.

Another youth, Zaijuan Hester, 18, has pleaded guilty to being the shooter in that incident.

Some of Rose's family members attended the trial, occasionally dabbing their eyes or silently sobbing in the Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh, about 11 miles (17.7 km) from where Rose died.

Defence lawyer Patrick Thomassey said in his opening arguments that Rosfeld, who was dressed in a gray suit, was "not a criminal" and had to make "a split-second decision" whether to shoot Rose.

Thomassey portrayed Rosfeld as a trained and dedicated police officer who, like other officers, risk their lives to defend people like those on the jury.

"All he did is what a trained officer is supposed to do," Thomassey said. "He was protecting you and everyone in the room, that is what he's supposed to do."

Thomassey suggested Rose was complicit in the drive-by shooting that preceded his death, saying he identified targets for Hester. Rose had a bullet clip in his pocket, and his DNA was found on one of the two Glock pistols left in the car.

"Why did he get out of the car and run?" Thomassey said of Rose.

The trial is expected to last into next week.


(Reporting By David DeKok; Editing by Frank McGurty and Nick Carey)