Details emerge in gun shop slaying
Indiana County prosecutors said Thursday that a magisterial district judge from Allegheny County would be sent to formally charge homicide suspect Jack Edmundson Jr. when he is medically fit to face legal action in a Pittsburgh hospital room.
Edmundson, of Saltsburg, continues to recover from a gunshot wound to his right thigh, an injury he suffered during a hand-to-hand struggle with the owner of a Tunnelton gun shop.
He was said to be in serious condition Thursday in the intensive care unit at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, and under continuous watch by a state police officer.
Shop owner Frank Petro, shot twice in the abdomen at the outset of the confrontation with Edmundson and then twice more in the head, died of his wounds at the scene in Frank’s Gun & Taxidermy Shop along Hogue Street.
Petro, 62, was identified as a resident of Home in a news release issued by state police on Wednesday morning, but the coroner’s office listed Petro’s home as 59 Hogue St., where his gun and taxidermy business operated in the basement.
He is listed as a resident of Tunnelton in an obituary on Page 4.
Petro’s wife, Janet, requested privacy for her family.
“Frank was a good husband, brother and father,” she told reporters following the news conference. “This is an unbelievable tragedy. I have every confidence (in) the state police at the Indiana barracks and our D.A. Pat Dougherty that this man will be brought to justice. I appreciate your cooperation in allowing us the privacy to grieve our loved one.”
Authorities revealed more of what the gun shop surveillance video cameras captured of the confrontation during a news conference Thursday afternoon, and said it was not clear how Edmundson was wounded.
Investigators continued to look into an apparent extortion scheme that developed between Edmundson and Petro about three months ago, but said it wasn’t clear whether that incident — related to them by Petro’s brother in the wake of the shooting — precipitated Edmundson’s visit to the gun shop on Tuesday.
Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty called the ongoing investigation a “very fluid situation” and said he was looking for much of the same information reporters sought at the press gathering.
No court proceedings are scheduled yet in the case and Dougherty said it was too early to decide whether the death penalty would be considered. The district attorney would not be required to declare whether he would pursue a death penalty until the case would be held for trial in the county court.
WHAT THE VIDEO REVEALED
A surveillance system in Frank’s Gun & Taxidermy Shop recorded pictures but no sound. It showed Edmundson entering the store about 1:30 and removing a gun from a display case — the only weapon involved in the entire incident, according to police.
Petro approached from a back room and tried to “swipe” at the gun, but Edmundson stepped back and fired two shots at Petro. While Petro fell wounded to the floor, Edmundson spread black powder through the shop and poured liquid contents of a plastic bottle around the powder. Police termed the liquid an accelerant, and filed a charge of attempted arson along with homicide and aggravated assault counts.
But Petro rose and tackled Edmundson and fought with him for control of the gun.
“At this point, we are analyzing the surveillance video so I think it would be premature to speculate on who actually shot the gun,” Dougherty said. “What we do know is the gun was in Edmundson’s hand at the time of the struggle. How he got shot, we’re still looking into that.”
The scuffle ended with Edmundson shooting Petro two times in the “face and head region,” police wrote in the charges.
Dougherty turned down requests to release parts of the surveillance video or still photos from it.
THE CALL TO 911
Dougherty said Edmundson placed the telephone call to the Indiana County 911 center at 1:52 p.m. Tuesday, reporting that he was wounded and that he acted in self-defense, but Dougherty said he had not fully reviewed the recording of the phone call.
“We’re in the process of analyzing those tapes. We have not actually secured them yet, they are still at 911,” Dougherty said. “There is a story that we do not believe was accurate, that was portrayed through the 911 and through the state police dispatch.”
Paramedics treated Edmundson at the scene and transported him for treatment of his wound before state police had an opportunity to talk with him at the scene, officials said.
Dougherty said Edmundson has been interviewed at the hospital, but would not reveal what Edmundson said.
EDMUNDSON AS AN ‘UNDERCOVER INVESTIGATOR’
Twice in the past few months, Edmundson portrayed himself as a police officer, according to police, but Edmundson had not worked as a police officer in Indiana County, although he served as a confidential informant to the state police for some time. But that relationship between Edmundson and state police ended several years ago, officials said Thursday.
“None of the information Edmundson provided as part of his role as a confidential informant involved Mr. Petro in any way,” Dougherty said. “We believe that Edmundson has targeted Mr. Petro and was using the information he obtained on his own to extort money from Petro. But he had been deactivated and was not working as an informant.”
In November, state police charged Edmundson with impersonating a public servant after he was accused of detaining a teenager, who had thrown corn at his car while he drove on Route 286 in Conemaugh Township, near Saltsburg. Edmundson also was charged with illegal restraint in connection with the incident, waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and was free on unsecured bond to await a formal arraignment scheduled for Jan. 28 in Indiana County Court.
Prosecutors said Edmundson possibly could face additional similar charges, depending on the investigation of his dealings with Petro.
THE ILLEGAL LOTTERY TICKETS
The victim’s brother, William Petro, told police that Edmundson claimed to be investigating an illegal lottery case involving Frank Petro, and said he could “make the case go away” if Frank Petro stopped selling tickets.
Petro paid Edmundson two sums of cash, between $44,000 and $47,000 first, then another $87,000, that was portrayed as Petro’s winnings from illegal lottery tickets.
According to the court document, Petro became suspicious when he learned of Edmundson’s arrest for impersonating an officer, and contacted a lawyer about the money he paid to Edmundson.
But while Petro apparently voluntarily paid more than $130,000 because of pressure from Edmundson, Dougherty said neither his office nor the state police in Indiana were investigating Petro for any such wrongdoing.
“It’s our understanding that it was money that Petro had won and Edmundson was attempting to gain from him to keep him quiet, so he would avoid criminal prosecution,” Dougherty said. “At this point in time, Mr. Petro was not under any investigation by my office or by the Indiana state police.”
But other agencies may have been looking into illegal lottery activity in the area, he said.
“This is an ongoing investigation and all avenues are being explored. It’s fair to say that’s something that has been looked into and is being examined,” Dougherty said. “Whether charges have been filed, I am not sure because it is in another jurisdiction.”
The unlawful restraint case in Conemaugh Township was the second criminal charge filed in 2013 against Edmundson. State police had filed a count of retail theft against him in connection with an incident on March 26 at Giant Eagle supermarket in Townfair Center in White Township. Edmundson waived his right to a hearing in the case, but the charge was dismissed by prosecutors on Oct. 7.
Edmundson had been arrested in 1998 in Lancaster County, where he reportedly worked as a police officer and was accused of the theft of evidence in a criminal case.
Edmundson’s criminal record in eastern Pennsylvania wasn’t known in Indiana County until several years later, after former Indiana County Coroner Thomas Streams appointed Edmundson as a deputy coroner in 2004.
After Coroner Michael Baker was elected in 2005, his office received an anonymous tip about Edmundson’s past, he said.
He investigated the details and insisted that Edmundson resign from his post with the coroner’s office.
“He had at least one felony conviction,” Baker said. “He stole gold coins and some telephone calling cards and brought them back to Westmoreland County and sold them.”
Online court records show Edmundson was convicted and sentenced in late 2000 and was ruled eligible for work release by a Lancaster County judge in early 2001.
Edmundson served for a time on the police civil service commission in Saltsburg Borough, and was employed by Lifestat Ambulance Service in Saltsburg. Details of his service with the ambulance company were not available this morning.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- This story edited at 12:50 p.m. to correct the name of Frank Petro's wife.