Shooting suspect faces trial
February 21, 2014 11:00 AM
by CHAUNCEY ROSS
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Jack Edmundson Jr., of Saltsburg, was ordered this morning to stand trial on homicide and related charges in the New Year’s Eve shooting death of a Tunnelton gun shop owner.

Edmundson, 43, is accused of entering Frank’s Gun & Taxidermy Shop along Hogue Street on the afternoon of Dec. 31, taking a gun from a display case, then shooting owner Frank Petro as they struggled for control of the weapon.

A surveillance video system captured much of the incident. Based on their review of the footage, state police charged Edmundson with criminal homicide, attempted arson, aggravated assault, robbery and theft.

District Judge Guy Haberl of Indiana held the case for trial following a preliminary hearing in the Indiana County Court House.

Edmundson sat quietly in a wheelchair in the courtroom this morning, facing the witness stand and Haberl, and with his back to the audience that included more than 20 spectators other than investigators and reporters.

District Attorney Patrick Dougherty put three investigators on the stand and closed his case in about 35 minutes. Defense attorney Gary Knaresboro, of DuBois, briefly cross-examined two of the witnesses, asking them to clarify some of the details of their findings, but he didn’t present a closing statement that might have hinted at his strategy for defending Edmundson.

Attorney Michael Marshall, of DuBois, is assisting Knaresboro.

Trooper Robert Valyo, a criminal investigator at the Indiana station, pieced together the deadly incident in his testimony today.

Edmundson parked his vehicle in the lot at Tunnelton Inn, across the road from Petro’s shop, Valyo testified. Instead of walking directly to the store, measured by police at about 500 feet away, Edmundson walked along Hogue Street past the store, cut north into a wooded area and approached the east side of the gun shop, in view of an exterior security camera, Valyo said. Footprints in the snow showed Edmundson walked more than 1,000 feet and entered the store at 1:32 p.m., Valyo said.

Although he had been told at the outset that Edmundson was involved in the incident, Valyo said he was certain when he saw the video recording. He had known Edmundson for years, and personally knew him as a fan attending the Saltsburg High School basketball games that Valyo worked as a PIAA referee.

The in-store security recording showed Edmundson removed “what looked like a semi-automatic pistol” from a glass display case, Valyo said, and dropped a holster on the floor. Petro then emerged from a back room.

The security system recorded only pictures and no sound, “but you could see them engaged in conversation,” Valyo said.

Edmundson pointed the gun and Petro “swiped at his hand,” Valyo explained.

Edmundson stepped back and aimed the gun again, the video showed.

“He has target acquisition of Mr. Petro’s central mass,” and shot his abdomen, Valyo said.

It was 1:33 p.m.

Petro fell motionless to the floor while Edmundson removed his winter gloves, to reveal blue gloves, apparently of latex, on his hands. Valyo said he took Petro’s wallet.

“You could see him shuffling through the wallet,” and he appeared to remove something, but police aren’t sure what it was, Valyo said.

Then Edmundson began dumping the contents of two bottles of black powder in the shop, Valyo said.

“He doused the back of Mr. Petro as he is lying on the floor,” and then started sprinkling liquid onto the powder from a plastic bottle he had brought into the shop, Valyo said. The crime lab reported the bottle tested positive for acetone, a flammable substance found in nail polish remover, but hasn’t exactly identified the liquid.

And Edmundson went and closed the front door of the gun shop, reducing the glare and improving the quality of the video, Valyo added.

The video next showed Petro regaining his senses and climbing off the floor.

“He lays there three minutes and appears to be unresponsive,” before he tried to rise, “and the video clearly shows Mr. Edmundson kicks him in the face and knocks his glasses off,” Valyo said.

The men went to a hand-to-hand scuffle and Edmundson seemed to try to shoot again, but the gun apparently malfunctioned before “he cleared it,” Valyo said.

The fight went on several minutes “until Mr. Petro started to lose his strength. They fell behind the display case,” Valyo said. “And although you can’t see the muzzle flash, it appears this is the time Mr. Edmundson was shot.”

The video showed Edmundson shooting Petro again, Valyo said.

Coroner Jerry Overman Jr. testified at the hearing that Petro died of bullet wounds to his abdomen, shoulder, neck and chin.

Valyo said Edmundson gathered the strength to phone 911 and identified himself to the dispatcher. He told emergency management that he needed a helicopter and that Petro had been the aggressor in the incident.

Valyo testified that the recording of the 911 call has been secured. Based on what the video showed, he didn’t believe the story Edmundson gave on the phone.

“The whole 911 call is very deceptive,” he said.

State trooper David Franks also testified at the hearing, briefly describing what he found as the first officer arriving at the scene. Paramedics already were treating the wounded men, and he helped to put Edmundson on a stretcher, Franks testified.

Edmundson was hospitalized for surgery and treatment that prevented him from facing charges in the case.

Police first filed charges early Jan. 1 in Indiana District Court, then traveled with Judge Haberl to Edmundson’s hospital room at UPMC Presbyterian, in Pittsburgh, for a preliminary arraignment hearing on Jan. 10.

Edmundson remained hospitalized and was under around-the-clock watch by police or deputies until after mid-January.

He has been held at the Indiana County Jail without bond since his discharge from the hospital.

At the hearing today in the Indiana County Court House, Haberl sent Edmundson back to the county jail to await arraignment before a judge.

A trial date has not been set.

[PHOTO: Sheriff’s deputies Ryan Hill, left, and Chris Cusimano led Jack Edmundson Jr. from the county courthouse this morning. (Tom Peel/Gazette photo)]

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