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 firstname.lastname@example.org