Jury seated for Brandon Thomas homicide trial

May 5, 2014
Brandon Thomas of Upper St Clair is led into Washington County Courthouse for an August 2013 hearing associated with the shooting death of 55-year-old Vaughn Simonelli in the Shop ‘n Save parking lot in Washington. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A jury was selected Monday for the trial of an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran accused of killing a man during a road-rage incident in Washington in late 2012.

A jury of six women and eight men, including two alternates, was selected to hear the case against Brandon Thomas. The trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday, May 12, in Washington County Court before Judge Katherine Emery.

Roughly 600 jury summonses were sent out for the May trial term, with 60 of those people being slated as potential jurors for Thomas’ trial. Throughout the day Monday, the group was whittled down. The jurors and alternates were selected about 4:30 p.m. as the rest of the courthouse was closing for the day.

Thomas, 32, of Upper St. Clair, is accused of killing Vaughn Simonelli, 55, of Washington, in the Shop ’n Save parking lot Oct. 18, 2012, after a reported confrontation between the two as they drove on Jefferson Avenue. Washington police said Thomas shot Simonelli twice, killing him with a shot to the neck.

In the months leading up to the trial, the defense and prosecution argued over where exactly the shots were fired from, inside Thomas’ black Hummer or outside the vehicle. Gunshot residue was found inside Thomas’ vehicle, but witnesses have told investigators they saw Thomas step out of the vehicle and fire two shots.

Thomas told investigators Simonelli was attacking him when he fired the fatal shots. He is charged with felony criminal homicide and three misdemeanor counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. Empty stamp bags of heroin were found in his vehicle the day of the killing.

The prosecution is not seeking the death penalty.

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Thomas, a veteran of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffered wounds from a bullet, shrapnel and a roadside explosion. Thomas has told investigators he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His trial was delayed at one point so he could undergo a mental-health evaluation, according to court documents.

Thomas is in Washington County Jail, where he has been held without bond since the shooting.

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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