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April 9, 2014

Richland shooting defendant convicted of attempted homicide

EBENSBURG — Editor's note: A previously published version of this story incorrectly stated the charges of which the defendant was convicted.

After two hours of deliberation, a Cambria County jury of six men and six women returned a mixed verdict against a Johnstown area man who opened fire at the Richland Township Police Department in 2012.

Kevin McGee, who was being tried in absentia after refusing to stay in the courtroom, will be sentenced June 23 by Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki.

The jury acquitted McGee, 46, of attempted homicide and two counts of aggravated assault involving Richland Officer Steve Bray.

He was convicted of attempted homicide and two counts of aggravated assault involving Richland Officer John Lucas.

The jury also returned guilty verdicts on two charges of aggravated assault, attempting to put both officers in fear of their lives; two counts of terroristic threats; and criminal mischief.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution dropped two counts of aggravated assault against a police officer and two counts of reckless endangerment.

Following the verdict, Cambria County Judge David Tulowitzki told the jury: “I think I can tell your thought process in this case, and it shows you were paying attention to the lawyers.”

Testimony Tuesday in the trial was that Bray was near Lucas and feared for his life.

Lucas testified that he was staring at the leveled 20-gauge shotgun and didn’t have anywhere to go.

He told the jury he thought he was “buying one for the home team.”

The charges stem from McGee’s actions at the Richland Township Police Department on Sept. 13, 2012, when he fired a shotgun into an unoccupied police cruiser. The shot also damaged a second police vehicle.

Following the initial shot, witnesses described a scenario where McGee then raised the shotgun with intent to fire into the building, in the direction of the officers.

At that point, Lucas, seeing the gun pointed at him, fired his own weapon, hitting McGee in the abdomen.

Attorney John Lovette of the Public Defender’s Office said he still believes the prosecution failed to show that McGee had the intent to kill the officers.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the outcome, with Mr. McGee found guilty of attempted homicide and aggravated assault,” he said. “But I respect the verdict of the jury.”

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys Tamara Bernstein and Forrest Fordham.

Bernstein, in talking to reporters after the verdict, said she believed the commonwealth made a strong case on all of the charges.

“The commonwealth is very pleased with the outcome in this case. We took these (charges) very seriously,” she said.  

The defendant had a mini camera taped to his arm and was recording his actions for what he later told police was an attempt to get recognized.

“He told me that the world wasn’t working for him and that it (the video) could be used as a movie trailer or a political trailer,” state police Trooper Matthew Evans testified.

Evans interviewed McGee at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, where he was taken after being shot by Lucas.

“He said he’d been planning it for months and months and that he hates the government,” Evans said.

McGee told Evans that his actions were because the Richland police disrespected him.

“He said that he did not think it through ... and he did not think he would get shot,” Evans testified.

Information not presented to the jury was that McGee had a number of run-ins with Richland police prior to the shooting.

Several weapons-related items of evidence were introduced showing McGee was equipped with multiple knives and dozens of shotgun shells and BB pellets.

One of the knives was taken from his pants along with more than a dozen unspent shells. Three other folding knives and several boxes of shells were located in a black canvas bag in McGee’s car.

McGee, who has been housed at the Cambria County Prison since his arrest, was granted a  request to represent himself, but on Tuesday he asked to be removed from the courtroom.

Lovette, earlier serving as standby counsel, was named to defend McGee.

“I was representing Mr. McGee for several months, so I was fully prepared to take the case to trial,” he said.

McGee was kept in a holding cell in the courthouse basement and refused to go to the courtroom to hear the verdict.

Prior to the case going to the jury, Lovette argued that the attempted homicide charges and aggravated assault charges should be dropped because McGee did not make a substantial act toward killing anyone.

Tulowitzki denied the request.

In his closing, Lovette said the prosecution failed to show intent to kill or harm a police officer. He said that while the video shows McGee with the gun, there is no clear shot that he is pointing it toward an officer.

“Kevin had access to guns,” Lovette said of earlier testimony. “If he really wanted to kill police officers, why take a single shotgun. Why didn’t he take five guns?”

In closing for the prosecution, Bernstein said that if McGee’s intent was limited to damaging property, why didn’t he use a rock, or a walking stick found in his car, or slash a cruiser’s tires with one of the knives?

“Why didn’t he drop his gun?” she said, adding “Kevin McGee went to Richland Township to kill some cops.”

Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.

 

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