A Washington County judge agreed to exclude evidence that a Fallowfield Township man apparently had at least one gun on his person during a beating from the trial of two Pagans Motorcycle Club members accused of participating in the attack.
Common Pleas Judge John DiSalle made the ruling on Thursday in response to a motion by prosecutors in the case who argued that information was irrelevant. The decision was one of several he made from the bench to resolve outstanding issues ahead of selecting a jury to hear the case against Joseph Olinsky III, 46, of McKeesport, and co-defendant Matthew J. Vasquez, 31, of Monessen. The co-defendants face charges including attempted homicide in the April 18 beating of Troy Harris, 54, inside the Slovak Club in Charleroi.
Both defendants are denied bail as they await trial.
Prosecutors argued that information about the gun that Harris allegedly had during the beating was irrelevant. Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh said that there was no testimony from witnesses or sign in the video that Harris was holding a firearm before or during the attack by a group of seven Pagans.
Stephen Colafella, Vasquez’s attorney, argued that the information was important to understand his client’s perception of the situation.
Police in Pittsburgh said Harris had a stolen handgun and ammunition in a pants pocket when he arrived at Allegheny General Hospital, plus ammunition for a different caliber of weapon. He faces charges of receiving stolen property and carrying a firearm without a concealed-carry permit. Renee Colbert, Olinsky’s attorney, said another gun was recovered from the floor of the bar. No evidence of that claim has been presented during proceedings in the case so far.
As part of that decision, DiSalle said he would bar testimony about a criminal case against Harris from 1992. Prosecutors similarly contended that “prior bad act” had no bearing on the trial.
DiSalle also denied a motion by Colbert, who was appointed to replace Olinsky’s previous attorney on Jan. 7, for a postponement of the trial. She asked for the additional time to review evidence in the case and prepare the defense. Colafella agreed there is a “great deal of information” to go over, but said he was ready to proceed.
Walsh scoffed at the motion, saying several of the witnesses he plans to call have given their testimony at other hearings, and expects the others to give similar testimony. Video of the beating, an important element of the government’s case, was played during earlier proceedings, too.
“None of this is a surprise,” he added.
DiSalle also denied a request by Colbert to move the trial out of the county, ruling that she hadn’t met the significant hurdle of showing that pretrial coverage of the case would prevent a “fair and impartial” jury from being picked. He did say additional summonses had been sent out to ensure a large pool of potential jurors.
Harris was unconscious when he arrived at the hospital. He spent several months there and in various other care facilities, and used a cane and speech therapy because of the extent of his injuries.
His wife, Michele, who was also at the bar that night, testified she at first went to retrieve a gun she had in her purse. Crawling on the floor, she saw her husband in a pool of his own blood and vomit and settled for attempting to shield him from a blizzard of kicks. “(Expletive) Sutars Soldiers,” she recalled one of the assailants saying.
Troy Harris was formerly a Pagan but left at some point and joined the offshoot Sutars Soldiers Motorcycle Club.
Of the dozen people charged in the case, most are Pagans who pleaded guilty to charges they carried out or orchestrated the beating. One of them is cooperating with the government. So are several nonmembers who are charged with having been involved.
DiSalle ruled against the defense when Colafella requested that the judge not allow expert testimony from Terry Katz, a former member of the Maryland state police. The prosecution expects to call Katz to discuss the internal dynamics of the Pagans and their rivalry with the Sutars. Colafella argued that portions of his testimony, including about the “violent nature” of the Pagans, wouldn’t be relevant to his client, who he said has no criminal record or history of violence.
The judge said the witness would be helpful to jurors’ understanding of the group, but said the defense could object to specific portions that crossed a line.