Indiana, PA - Indiana County

DA seeks death penalty

by on March 19, 2014 11:00 AM

Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty will ask a jury to return a first-degree murder verdict and impose a death sentence for a Saltsburg man charged in the slaying of a Tunnelton gun shop owner on Dec. 31.

Dougherty on Friday filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Jack Edmundson Jr., who awaits arraignment and trial in the shooting death of Frank Petro in Petro’s Gun & Taxidermy Shop.

In charging documents and at a preliminary hearing in February, investigators said Edmundson entered the gun shop, removed a handgun from a display case, and was confronted by Petro, who entered the shop from a back room. When Petro tried to grab or swat the gun from Edmundson’s hand, Edmundson stepped back and shot him twice, according to court papers.

A surveillance camera in the gun shop recorded video of the altercation, police said.

While the wounded shop owner lay on the floor, Edmundson took and searched his wallet, then poured black powder throughout the store and started sprinkling a flammable fluid on the powder, investigators testified.

But Petro gathered his strength and tried to stop him, and as they scuffled again, the gun discharged and wounded Edmundson in the right thigh, police said.

Trooper Robert Valyo, the prosecuting officer, said the video showed Edmundson taking control of the gun and shooting Petro twice in the head.

Coroner Jerry Overman said Petro, 62, died from four gunshot wounds to his abdomen, shoulder, neck and chin.

As Petro lay mortally wounded, Edmundson phoned Indiana County 911 to report the shootings and ask for an ambulance and a medical helicopter. Edmundson told dispatchers that Petro had been the attacker, and that he shot Petro in self-defense, police said.

Edmundson, 43, was flown to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh and was kept under around-the-clock police guard for several weeks. He was formally charged with homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, attempted arson and theft while in his hospital room, and was lodged at the Indiana County Jail without bond when he was released.

Edmundson was confined to a wheelchair when he appeared in court Feb. 21 for his preliminary hearing.

He is scheduled next to appear for formal arraignment on March 28 before Judge William Martin in Indiana County Common Pleas Court.

Dougherty said Martin has admonished all involved in the case to not speak publicly about it.

“I cannot discuss this case per Judge Martin,” Dougherty wrote this morning in an email message in response to a request for comment on the death penalty filing.

The Pennsylvania criminal code allows juries to consider capital punishment if one or more of 18 specific aggravating circumstances can be proven, following a suspect’s conviction for first-degree murder.

A jury must unanimously agree to accept aggravating circumstances.

Among them, “The defendant committed a killing while in the perpetration of a felony,” the law provides.

Four of the five charges against Edmundson are felonies.

A jury also can reject the death sentence and order life in prison if one or more jurors agree that mitigating circumstances outweigh the aggravating circumstances. The law allows a suspect to offer any of eight specific mitigating circumstances as a defense.

The prosecution of criminal charges filed earlier against Edmundson has been put on hold.

State police charged him in November with false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, impersonating a public servant, simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct, and Edmundson waived his right to a hearing on Dec. 5.

Investigators said two 15-year-old boys hurled corn at Edmundson’s car as he drove by them Nov. 21 on Route 286, and that he chased the youths, shouting “police!” at them, then tackled and handcuffed one of the boys.

The case has been postponed until a criminal call hearing in August 2015, online court records show.

Edmundson, once a police officer in Lancaster County, served about a year in jail there after being convicted in 2000 of stealing platinum coins from a safe deposit box belonging to a suspect he had arrested.

When he returned to Indiana County, Edmundson served as a deputy coroner, as a member of the Saltsburg Borough police civil service commission and as a supervisor at Lifestat Ambulance Service in Saltsburg.

In March 2005, Edmundson was hailed by his Saltsburg neighbors as a hero for saving a 2-year-old boy who was choking on food.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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