Trial set for man in triple homicide
STROUDSBURG — A man was ordered to stand trial on triple homicide charges Thursday after witnesses described how he blasted his way into a municipal building and prosecutors played disturbing audio of the shooting rampage and its aftermath.
Rockne Newell, 59, sprayed dozens of rifle rounds as he targeted officials in Ross Township, a Pocono Mountains community about 85 miles north of Philadelphia, authorities said.
A judge ordered Newell to be tried on three counts of homicide, six counts of attempted homicide and other charges for the Aug. 5 attack.
The decision came after prosecutors played more than 10 minutes’ worth of audio of people screaming, tables being overturned and bursts of gunfire.
Linda Kozic, who was shot in the leg and remains in a wheelchair, could be heard on the recording begging her husband to breathe and “stay with me.” Gerard Kozic, 53, died.
Prosecutors also played a 911 call from another one of the victims, Ross Township zoning officer David Fleetwood, 62, who reported he’d been shot in the stomach, identified Newell as the shooter and said, “I can’t move. ... Please hurry, please hurry.” He died at the hospital about an hour later.
Newell closed his eyes as the audio was played and kept them shut through most of his preliminary hearing, occasionally using his lawyer’s suit jacket as a blanket.
Monroe County District Attorney David Christine said after the hearing that he intends to pursue the death penalty against Newell. Prosecutors say the junk dealer was upset over the loss of his debris-strewn property after a lengthy court battle with the township. The township had acted on complaints that he lived in a storage shed, built an illegal culvert and used a bucket outside as a toilet.
The supervisors were about 15 minutes into their public meeting on the first Monday in August when “things went terribly awry,” testified township solicitor John Dunn, who was one of Newell’s alleged targets but escaped injury.
Newell began shooting through a front window — with bullets piercing the wall inside the supervisors’ meeting room — and began cutting down victims as they fled the building, according to state police.
Also killed was James V. LaGuardia, 64, of Saylorsburg.
After running out of ammunition, Newell retreated to his car and returned with a handgun, authorities said.
Bernard Kozen, the township’s parks director, testified he rushed Newell as he came back into the meeting room, wrestling the gun away and shooting Newell in the leg to subdue him.
“I felt I had to take action,” Kozen testified.
“I really appreciate what you did that day, probably saved several lives,” prosecutor Michael Mancuso told him.
Newell’s father, Pete Newell, insisted to reporters outside the courtroom that township officials persecuted his son.
“I don’t feel like he is a murderer. They just pressed him,” he said.
Security around the courthouse was heavy Thursday, with streets blocked off and rifle-toting police in camouflage walking the perimeter.