GREENSBURG – Ray Shetler lowered his head, slammed his fist onto a desk and wept Friday night as a jury found him not guilty on his most serious charges – first- and third-degree murder – in the shooting death of a St. Clair Township police officer.
Behind him, Lloyd Reed Jr.’s widow, Rose Marie, put her hands to her face and cried, too, stunned by the decision after six days of court testimony and 20 hours of deliberation in the 2015 shooting.
The 8:30 p.m. verdict came after two days of deliberation by a jury of six men and six women in a case over a fatal encounter between Shetler, 33, and Reed, 54, after a domestic abuse call turned to gunfire between both men and claimed the life of the longtime police officer.
Shetler, who was also acquitted on assault and terroristic threats charges, had no comment as he was escorted from the courthouse into a sheriff’s department vehicle to await sentencing on theft and receiving stolen property charges – counts related to the theft of a truck after the shooting.
His step-father, Mark Porter, who exited the building arm-in-arm with family, shouted “thank God” as he left.
“It was self-defense,” he said, calling the shooting a tragedy. “It was just bad timing and a bad situation … It’s a shame a life was lost.”
“We’re pleased with the verdict … but in the grand scheme of things it’s unpleasant for both sides, both families, to be brought through this,” defense attorney Marc Daffner said.
Shetler has been behind bars since November 2015, charged with Reed’s murder, accused of deliberately gunning Reed down after ignoring his commands to drop a hunting rifle.
Prosecutors indicated the crime was so heinous that they would have pursued the death penalty if Shetler had been convicted of first degree murder.
They spent five days outlining nearly 200 of pieces of evidence in the case, including an 18-minute call to 911.
They called on local police officers who responded that night, state and federal investigators who reconstructed the Ligonier Street shooting scene and a security supervisor from a nearby power plant who spotted Shetler nearly a mile from the crime scene soaking wet from swimming across the Conemaugh River.
They also relied on testimony from paramedics and local officers who testified Shetler was vulgar and belligerent when he was apprehended, during an ambulance ride to Johnstown and toward officers assigned to guard him inside a hospital room the next morning.
Shetler denied all of that on the witness stand, saying he tried to flee an unknown attacker next to his residence and got lost after crossing the river.
He admitted to fighting with his girlfriend, Kristin Luther – an act that sparked the 911 call – and, during cross-examination, admitted he heard her referencing the fact police were contacted.
But Shetler insisted he did not stop to think the man holding a flashlight and a handgun ordering him to drop his rifle, might be a police officer.
Shetler insisted he didn’t fire his weapon until he was struck, telling jurors he was “running for my life.”
Jurors appeared to be at a near standstill in their deliberations earlier Friday, at one point, asking Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, about the consequences of not reaching a unanimous verdict on first- and third-degree murders.
But after listening to the judge explain legal definitions for justification in a shooting and reasonable doubt, they worked another six hours and then returned to the courtroom.
District Attorney John Peck indicated he was surprised and “very disappointed” by the verdict – but praised the investigative work state police put into the case and said he “couldn’t fault” the jury.
“There’s no doubt they spent their time on it … thoroughly reviewed it and deliberated,” he said. “We have a jury system in this country, and we’ll certainly abide by their verdict.”
Shetler’s sentencing has not been set. Bilik-DeFazio set bond at $100,000.
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.