Northeast Times

Man convicted in Millbrook road-rage death

Gerry Shaf­fer Jr., a 23-year-old Far North­east man con­victed on Monday of in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter in the road-rage death of an­oth­er man, will find out on March 8 wheth­er he must serve jail time.

Shaf­fer, who has been on house ar­rest for more than two years, was found not guilty of the much more ser­i­ous charge of third-de­gree murder. He was also ac­quit­ted of crim­in­al con­spir­acy.

The time on house ar­rest does not count to­ward his pos­sible jail time, but the sev­er­al months he spent in jail be­fore mak­ing bail do count.

De­fense at­tor­ney Coley Reyn­olds said the sen­ten­cing guidelines call for a jail term of 3 to 12 months.

“We’re go­ing to ask the judge for a time-served sen­tence,” he said.

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Peter Lim said it’s too early to dis­cuss his re­com­men­ded sen­tence.

Mar­ie Wal­lace, the wid­ow of vic­tim Mark Wal­lace, was hop­ing for a con­vic­tion on third-de­gree murder. She still hopes Shaf­fer gets pris­on time.

“I’m happy he didn’t get off, that he’ll be held ac­count­able for his ac­tions,” she said.

Lim be­lieves the jury of sev­en wo­men and five men com­prom­ised between third-de­gree murder and in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter.

“The ver­dict was in the middle,” he said.

The ver­dict could have been a lot worse for Shaf­fer. Had he been con­victed of third-de­gree murder, his de­fense cal­cu­lated that he would have been in line for a 6-year pris­on sen­tence.

“We’re grat­i­fied,” said de­fense at­tor­ney Jam­ie Funt. “We ac­cept this ver­dict. We are grat­i­fied that the sys­tem really did work.”

Shaf­fer and his fam­ily, who live on the 4100 block of Farm­dale Road, de­clined to talk after court. Shaf­fer was a stu­dent at Or­leans Tech­nic­al In­sti­tute and hoped to be­come a fire­man at the time of the in­cid­ent. Today, he stud­ies in­form­a­tion tech­no­logy net­work­ing.

Shaf­fer was charged in the death of Wal­lace, 54, of the 3900 block of Pa­tri­cian Drive. Wal­lace passed away 12 days after an al­ter­ca­tion with the de­fend­ant and his fath­er in April 2010 at the in­ter­sec­tion of Knights and Fairdale roads.

What ex­actly happened in the early even­ing of Thursday, April 8, 2010 was at is­sue.

Shaf­fer Sr., a Phil­adelphia fire­man, was driv­ing east on Fairdale Road when he honked his horn at Wal­lace, a ped­es­tri­an. Shaf­fer Jr., re­ferred to by the de­fense as “Little Gerry,” was a pas­sen­ger in his dad’s car.

The eld­er Shaf­fer and Wal­lace ex­changed un­pleas­ant­ries, with the ped­es­tri­an in­sist­ing he had the right of way.

Shaf­fer Sr. parked his truck, got out and walked to­ward Wal­lace, and a fight en­sued. Shaf­fer Jr. even­tu­ally joined the ruck­us.

The tri­al, in Room 807 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, fea­tured con­tra­dict­ory evid­ence about what happened next. What is known is that Wal­lace, who had a .267 blood al­co­hol con­tent, died of a brain in­jury on April 20. Shaf­fer Sr. died of a heart at­tack in Decem­ber 2011, as he was await­ing tri­al.

Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Lil­lian H. Ransom and the jury heard testi­mony from Jan. 8 to 10.

Shaf­fer, who cried dur­ing much of the tri­al, test­i­fied in his de­fense. Wal­lace, the vic­tim’s wid­ow, ques­tioned the sin­cer­ity of the tears, con­tend­ing that he didn’t cry dur­ing the pre­vi­ous court pro­ceed­ings.

Funt noted in his clos­ing ar­gu­ment that the pro­sec­u­tion’s four eye­wit­nesses presen­ted con­tra­dict­ory testi­mony.

Pro­sec­u­tion eye­wit­nesses Justine Bra­ciszewski, Jean Ja­nukow­icz, Christina Pet­ti­grew and Mark Mc­Carty re­turned to the courtroom for clos­ing ar­gu­ments.

It was Bra­ciszewski who provided the key evid­ence, testi­fy­ing that she heard voices from the Shaf­fers’ sil­ver Dodge Dur­ango tell Wal­lace to, “Get the f– out of the way.” She re­called Wal­lace back­ing up with his hands in the air and say­ing, “I have the right of way.” She told the court that she saw Shaf­fer Jr. pick up Wal­lace and slam him to the ground.

Ja­nukow­icz ap­proached Wal­lace while he was on the ground. She test­i­fied that he said he was in pain and told her, “Help me.”

Pet­ti­grew and Mc­Carty said Shaf­fer Sr. is­sued a warn­ing to the crowd that had gathered.

“Youse have not seen any­thing,” Mc­Carty re­called him say­ing.

The Shaf­fers were ul­ti­mately ar­res­ted be­cause some­body copied down their li­cense plate num­ber.

Dr. Jonath­an Ar­den, a forensic patho­lo­gist called by the de­fense, test­i­fied that Wal­lace’s in­jur­ies were con­sist­ent with a fall. The vic­tim also suffered a broken nose and col­lar­bone.

Dr. Ed­win Lieber­man, an as­sist­ant city med­ic­al ex­am­iner, test­i­fied that Wal­lace’s fatal in­jur­ies were con­sist­ent with be­ing thrown to the ground. The in­jur­ies were not con­sist­ent, he test­i­fied, with a fall.

Lim re­minded the jury that Shaf­fer left the scene and nev­er called 911.

Nancy Kolen­kiewicz, the vic­tim’s sis­ter, was hop­ing for a con­vic­tion on third-de­gree murder. She dis­missed Shaf­fer’s con­ten­tion that he tried to break up the fight as the “biggest joke of the year.” She also ques­tioned the de­fense claim that Shaf­fer feared and was con­trolled by his dad. The young man test­i­fied his dad told him to stay in the vehicle while he con­fron­ted Wal­lace.

“Why didn’t he stay in the damn car?” Kolen­kiewicz asked.

Word spread at about 11:30 a.m. Monday that a ver­dict had been reached. Room 807 was be­ing used for oth­er mat­ters, so every­one walked down the hall to 802.

A court of­ficer asked Shaf­fer to stand as he asked the jury fore­man to state the pan­el’s ver­dict on third-de­gree murder, fol­lowed by in­vol­un­tary man­slaughter and con­spir­acy.

Shaf­fer, who wore eye­glasses and a suit to court each day, hugged his fam­ily and at­tor­neys at the con­clu­sion of the hear­ing.

Dur­ing his time on the stand, he test­i­fied that his dad said to Wal­lace, “Get out of the road, a—hole.” He de­cided to break up the fight between his dad and Wal­lace. He was hit by a punch in­ten­ded for his dad and lost his glasses. He de­cided to lower his head and grab Wal­lace around the waist to avoid get­ting hit again, and the two fell to the ground.

“Mr. Shaf­fer had no in­tent to hurt Mr. Wal­lace,” de­fense at­tor­ney Reyn­olds said af­ter­ward.

Funt, the co-coun­sel, said his cli­ent was re­morse­ful, adding that he has had no vi­ol­a­tions while on house ar­rest.

Lim, the pro­sec­utor, had kind words for Wal­lace’s kin.

“The vic­tim’s fam­ily dis­played a tre­mend­ous amount of cour­age sup­port­ing their re­l­at­ive,” he said.

The jur­ors re­ceived cer­ti­fic­ates for their ser­vice. They ordered lunch but reached a ver­dict be­fore it ar­rived.

Out­side the court­house, a fe­male jur­or who did not want to be iden­ti­fied out­lined the pan­el’s de­lib­er­a­tions.

“In the very be­gin­ning, we wanted to see if there was malice in­volved. We came to the de­cision there was no malice, that he got in­volved to as­sist his fath­er,” she said.

The jury took note that Shaf­fer did not kick Wal­lace while he was down, but the pan­el was con­cerned that he had left the scene and nev­er called 911.

“That was something we talked about ex­tens­ively, that he left the gen­tle­man in that con­di­tion,” the jur­or said.

The jur­or said Bra­ciszewski was a cred­ible eye­wit­ness, but the pan­el was bothered that the pro­sec­u­tion did not present evid­ence of how far away she was when she saw the fight.

Over­all, the jury had to de­cide what went on dur­ing the short, but chaot­ic, series of events.

“We didn’t think the pro­sec­u­tion made the case for murder-three, but the move he made did cause the in­jur­ies,” the jur­or said. ••

 

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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