A winter wind whistled past Washington County Courthouse Tuesday morning, but nothing could distract from riveting testimony when an admitted member of the Pagan Motorcycle Club said he led fellow members on bikes from Star Junction to Charleroi and Troy Harris “to teach him a lesson” last April.
Asked what was meant by “teach him a lesson,” Paul Anthony Cochran, 54, of Charleroi, in a gravely voice, replied, “beat him up.”
The trip to the Slovak Club was prompted by someone at a Fayette City area Pagan gathering who received a phone call relaying Harris was present the night of April 18 at the private establishment, where vice president Zackary Yagnich, 27, of Charleroi met the motorcyclists in a parking lot so they could gain entrance.
Cochran said he didn’t know who initiated the phone call, or who received it, but the information was communicated to him because he was familiar with the Slovak Club’s location at 700 McKean Ave.
As Cochran was testifying under direct questioning by Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh, there was a brief outburst from Joseph Olinsky III, 46, of McKeesport, one of the accused.
“Knock it off,” a sheriff’s deputy, one of several in the courtroom, interjected, and Judge John DiSalle cautioned the defendants they should speak only to their legal counsel.
Prosecutors projected on a large screen video surveillance from inside the club showing a line of men entering the club and heading straight for Harris, who was seated on a bar stool.
He was knocked to the floor, beaten and stomped so severely he had to be taken by helicopter for treatment at a Pittsburgh Hospital for serious head and other internal injuries.
Attorneys for Olinsky and Matthew Vasquez, 31, of Monessen, had asked that the attempted homicide counts against their clients be dismissed prior to jury selection, claiming there was no intent to kill Harris, a Fallowfield Township resident, that night.
“This is an assault that took place and nothing more than an assault,” argued attorney Ryan Tutera, representing Olinsky.
Tutera also attempted to undermine the identification Vasquez’s former fiancée, Jamie Granato, provided to detectives about Harris’ attackers.
Granato knew of Olinsky by the “road name,” which, according to testimony, was “Cuffs.” Detectives Michael Carso and Kiprian Yarosh of the Washington County district attorney’s office testified they did not plant or suggest Olinsky’s proper name to her.
Stephen Colafella, representing Vasquez since only last week, told the judge, “I’m not disputing identification, I’m not disputing (Vasquez) was there. I’m not disputing he threw that punch. In terms of my client’s culpability, we can go to trial on aggravated assault. There is no conspiracy.”
Walsh countered, “Where did all these people come from? We have people from all over Southwestern Pennsylvania congregating at the little Slovak Club, not to have a beer, but to pummel” Harris.
Attempted homicide charges against Olinsky and Vasquez remain, however, according to DiSalle’s ruling at the conclusion of a two-and-a-half-hour hearing as 2019 wound down.
Harris had been a member of the Pagans four years ago, Cochran said, but at some point, he joined another group known as Sutars Soldiers.
Five others have entered guilty pleas to aggravated assault and conspiracy, to which a sixth man has pleaded no contest. Others not alleged to have been members of the motorcycle club were also charged, mostly by Charleroi Regional Police.
Karen Wadsworth of Belle Vernon, Vasquez’s cousin, watched the hearing from a front row in the courtroom.
“I think there was a crime committed. I feel that maybe the whole story isn’t being told,” she said after the judge ruled from the bench.
“Maybe they’re being made an example,” Wadsworth said, calling the link to the motorcycle club both “prejudicial” and “unfair.”
“I don’t want to make it seem small, what happened to Troy Harris,” she said. “I know Troy. It is a shame what happened to him. I hope he is better and I have nothing against him.”
Vasquez, she said, is “a single father working very hard to take care of his son. He’s never been in trouble prior to this.”
Wadsworth said the defendant had been a steelworker at the U.S. Steel Clairton plant for eight years, but because of his incarceration, “he lost his job, his fiancée is testifying against him, he lost his house, his cars, his whole entire life.”
Olinsky and Vasquez are to stand trial together Feb. 3.