Jury deliberations begin in road-rage death in Far Northeast
Gerry Shaffer Jr., 23, is on trial on third-degree murder charges in connection with the death of pedestrian Mark Wallace, 54, after an altercation in the Far Northeast.
A jury deliberated for about a half hour this afternoon in the trial of a 23-year-old Far Northeast man who is on trial in connection with the road-rage death of another man.
Following closing statements in the trial this morning, Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian H. Ransom gave a charge to the jury. The panel then retired to the jury room in late afternoon for about a half hour before stopping for the day. Deliberations are expected to resume on Monday morning.
Gerry Shaffer Jr. is charged with third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy in the death of Mark Wallace, 54. Wallace died 12 days after an altercation with Shaffer and his father in April 2010 at the intersection of Knights and Fairdale roads.
What exactly happened in the early evening of April 8, 2010, is at issue in the trial.
Shaffer Sr., a Philadelphia fireman, was driving east on Fairdale Road when he honked his horn at Wallace, a pedestrian. Shaffer Jr. was a passenger in his dad's vehicle.
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, has 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 12 days later. Shaffer Sr. died of a heart attack in December 2011, as he was awaiting trial.
A jury of nine women and five men was selected on Monday.
Testimony was heard of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Assistant District Attorney Peter Lim is prosecuting the case. The defense team consists of Jamie Funt, Coley Reynolds and Noah Cohen.
“Gerry Shaffer and his father murdered Mark Wallace, and don't let anybody tell you different,” Lim said in his opening statement.
The prosecution's best witness, by far, was the first one called to testify. Justine Braciszewski, 22, said she was walking toward Franklin Mills mall when she heard honking and yelling. She testified that Shaffer Jr. was the one who injured Wallace.
“He picked him up and slammed him right to the ground,” she said.
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.
“It took more force than just a fall,” he said.
However, Dr. Jonathan Arden disputed that. A Virginia-based forensic pathologist testifying for the defense, he told the jury that Wallace's injuries were consistent with a fall.
Shaffer Jr. was the only other witness called by the defense.
The defendant, who is on house arrest, has cried and wiped away tears during much of the trial, including while he was on the stand.
Shaffer Jr. testified that he was texting when he heard his dad beep the horn.
“Get out of the road, asshole,” Shaffer Sr. yelled at Wallace.
Shaffer Sr. told his son to stay in the truck while he confronted Wallace. Shaffer Jr. got out of the vehicle when he saw his dad grab Wallace by the collar.
The two were fighting when Shaffer Jr. reached them.
“Dad, dad, stop,” testified he told his father.
Shaffer Jr. demonstrated what happened next, with Funt and Cohen playing the roles of Shaffer Sr. and Wallace. He testified that he got in the middle of the combatants, pushed his dad and got hit by Wallace, a blow that knocked off his glasses. He ducked his head and grabbed Wallace by the waist to avoid getting hit again, and he and Wallace fell to the ground. Wallace did not move after the fall.
Shaffer Sr. told his son to get back in the truck and joined him moments later.
“This is going to be rough,” father told son, “but we're going to get through it.”