Jurors scheduled to begin deliberating double homicide case today
Washington County jurors opted to start afresh this morning with deliberations in the 2009 Washington double homicide case outside Cabaret West after hearing an explanation of the law.
Judge Katherine B. Emery allowed the jurors, who put in a full day Wednesday, to choose to remain at the courthouse or go home before deciding the fate of Gregory Randall Avery, 25, of Washington.
Troy Saunders Jr., 23, of Canton Township, and Marquis Taylor, 24, of Washington, were mortally wounded by gunfire as they left Cabaret West shortly after 2 a.m. Feb. 16, 2009. Taylor was paralyzed and then died four days later at a Pittsburgh hospital.
In addition to first-degree homicide charges, the jury must weigh a conspiracy charge and what credence to give testimony by Avery’s co-defendant, Phillip Whitlock, 31, who was arrested about a week after the crime.
Whitlock implicated Avery last year on the day his homicide trial was scheduled to begin, and Avery was taken into custody. Two days later, Whitlock instead entered a guilty plea to two counts of third-degree murder, conspiracy and aggravated assault on a victim who survived the shooting. Whitlock has not been sentenced, but he came to court this week to testify against Avery as part of his plea bargain.
Whitlock claimed Avery shot Taylor with a .22-caliber handgun, then pursued Saunders as he fled the bar parking lot and shot him once in the back. Taylor, shot eight times, had wounds from both a .22-caliber and a 9 mm weapon. Earlier this week, Whitlock said he and Avery had a “common enemy” in Taylor.
In a closing argument that lasted nearly 90 minutes, Avery’s Pittsburgh-based attorney, Michael DeRiso, repeatedly called into question Whitlock’s actions and motivation.
“The guy’s a punk. He knows how to work the system,” DeRiso said, calling Whitlock “a one-man crime tsunami. Talk about making a deal with the devil.”
For the jurors, DeRiso played segment after segment of a surveillance video in which Whitlock, but not Avery, appears because “Greg Avery wasn’t there,” DeRiso continued. “For over three years, no one investigates Greg Avery.”
Avery, who invoked his right not to testify at the trial, stood and embraced DeRiso as he returned to his seat at the counsel table at the conclusion of his summation.
DeRiso on Wednesday called Dr. Robert T. Levine of Allegheny County as an expert witness. Levine discussed the angle of bullet holes in a car parked outside the bar relative to the position of the shooter. DeRiso tried to punch holes in Whitlock’s testimony that he fired a 9 mm handgun from the rear of the parked vehicle but never moved to the front of it, and questioned if shell casings had been moved in a crime scene poorly preserved.
First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas, who is trying his last case before he’s scheduled to take the oath of office next month as a Washington County judge, told the jury, “It’s an imperfect world” and that the prosecution doesn’t have “the benefit of Monday-morning quarterbacking.”
He reminded jurors that DeRiso’s questions were not testimony and while the defense could raise doubts, this differed from evidence. He noted that while jurors, earlier in the trial, had an opportunity to visit the site of the now-closed Cabaret West, Levine did not avail himself of the same opportunity.
Lucas suggested that Whitlock and Avery planned to ambush Saunders and Taylor, and that part of a conspiracy was to cut off possible exits and that, “Yes, Phillip Whitlock is corrupt. He’s a killer.”
In addition to those who were slain, a third person, Lindsay Jolly, was wounded in the shootings. Jolly testified that Saunders and Whitlock had been in an altercation outside Pickle’s Bar, 796 Ewing St., two nights before the shooting at Cabaret West. Whitlock also testified that he was angry at Taylor over an alleged robbery and assault nearly two months before.