Defense lawyer: Road rage death an accident
Jan 08, 2013 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Lawyers for a Northeast Philadelphia man -- charged with the 2010 road-rage killing of a pedestrian who was slow crossing the street in front of his father's SUV -- told a Philadelphia jury today the death was an accident Gerald Shaffer Jr. tried to prevent.
Defense attorney Coley O. Reynolds said the mortal injuries that killed 54-year-old Mark Wallace occurred when Shaffer, 23, tried to break up a fight between Wallace and Shaffer's father, Gerard "Gerry" Sr., a Philadelphia firefighter.
Reynolds said the evidence will show that the "Big Gerry was, quite frankly, just a bully" who had an explosive temper that often led to fist fights. He also beat his son and namesake, Reynolds said.
But Assistant District Attorney Peter Lim told the Common Pleas Court jury in his opening that "Mark Wallace was murdered and don't let anybody else tell you different."
Lim described the younger Shaffer as like his father: "he wanted to be a tough guy."
"They completely set the tempo and their aggression was obvious to everyone," Lim said of the fatal encounter.
Shaffer is charged with third-degree murder in Wallace's death. A short man with glasses and a buzz cut, Shaffer wept continuously throughout the opening statements and first witnesses, pulling one tissue after another from the box before him.
Several times, Reynold's co-counsel, James A. Funt, put his hand on Shaffer's back to try to calm him.
Shaffer's father had been charged with him but died at home of a heart attack on Dec. 5, 2011 at age 48.
The incident that ended with Wallace's death began about 7:30 p.m. on April 8, 2010 at the intersection of Knights and Fairdale Roads in the Northeast.
Witnesses who testified at a preliminary hearing in 2010 said Wallace, who was intoxicated, was crossing Knights Road when he walked in front of Shaffer Sr.'s gold SUV, which was stopped at the light.
Shaffer began honking his horn and swearing at Wallace to get out of the way; Wallace yelled back that "I have the right of way."
Witness Justine Braciszewski, 22, testified today that she witnessed the confrontation from the southwest corner of the intersection. She said the elder Shaffer pulled his car over to the roadside, got out and pursued Wallace.
Wallace held his hands up and backed away, Braciszewski testified, still saying he "had the right of way." She said Shaffer pushed Wallace in the chest and knocked him back several steps. Wallace then approached and threw a punch and the pair started fighting.
Braciszewski told the jury that Shaffer Jr. got out of his vehicle and ran to the fight calling after his father.
When Shaffer Jr. arrived, Braciszewski testified, he pushed his father out of the way and grabbed Wallace from behind in a bear hug. He then flipped Wallace over his shoulder and headfirst into the concrete.
"Mark didn't move after that," she added.
Wallace died of massive brain injuries two weeks later.
Reynolds said the defense evidence would show that "Little Gerry" was caught between two violent men: his own father and the intoxicated Wallace.
Reynolds said Shaffer Jr. grabbed Wallace from behind, there was a struggle and both men fell to the ground and Wallace struck his head.
After Wallace was unconscious, witnesses testified, Shaffer Sr. pulled his prone body off to the side and he and his son returned to their car and drove away.
Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, email@example.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.
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