By Joe Mandak, Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) – A man dying of throat cancer fatally shot his wife in a planned murder-suicide that went awry, not a mercy killing, authorities said Friday.
Police initially considered it a possible mercy killing, but they determined Catherine Willett, 79, didn’t have any significant health problems before her 79-year-old husband, Phillip Willett, shot her about 8:25 p.m. Thursday.
Phillip Willett also tried to shoot himself, but the gun jammed. Police found the weapon still in that condition when they arrived to find his wife dead on the floor of a single gunshot wound to the head.
The couple shared a home with Catherine Willett’s two elderly sisters, who told police all three women heard Phillip Willett “banging around” in an upstairs bedroom Thursday evening. When Catherine Willett went to check on her husband, one of her sisters heard the couple arguing.
The sister heard Catherine Willett saying, “Don’t do that” and “Why are you doing this?” and, finally, “Please, Phil, I love you,” according to a criminal complaint charging him with criminal homicide.
Phillip Willett was then overheard saying, “I am in so much pain” and “I don’t want to live anymore” before shooting his wife as he sat on a bed, police said. The sisters were not injured.
“It looks like he knew that he was close to death and he made the decision to take her with him,” police Lt. Kevin Kraus said.
Police charged Phillip Willett with one count of criminal homicide and planned to question him after he was briefly taken to West Penn Hospital after the shooting.
But police didn’t question Willett due to his “deteriorating medical condition” and the Allegheny County Jail would not accept him as an inmate because of his illness, police said in a statement. He instead was transported to UPMC Mercy Hospital under police guard.
“He is not able to be arraigned at this time. He is suffering from a terminal illness,” police said in a press release Friday. “His wife was not sick.”
Authorities ID Pittsburgh couple slain in car
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Authorities have released the names of a man and woman found shot to death in a car in Pittsburgh.
The Allegheny County medical examiner’s office says the victims, both 36 years old, are Jason Eubanks and Cheralynn Sabatasso.
Police say they found the victims after they were responded to a report of shots fired in the city’s Knoxville section shortly after 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Police say the woman’s body was found in the driver’s seat of a vehicle that had come to a stop on the curb. The man’s body was in the front passenger seat.
Lt. Kevin Kraus said both had gunshot wounds to the head, and investigators believe the shooting happened inside the vehicle.
Police hadn’t released the names of any suspects or made any arrests by early Friday.
Peduto limiting free parking for workers
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Pittsburgh’s newly elected mayor wants to end city employees’ monopoly on free parking.
Mayor Bill Peduto has ordered officials to inventory free parking passes issued to employees of the city and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.
Chief of staff Kevin Acklin says most of the 271 passes the authority issued under former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl are unnecessary, and cost the city about $1 million in lost parking revenue each year.
Some row officers and other officials have defended the passes, saying it’s a simpler solution than asking workers to seek reimbursement for what amounts to pocket change when they park in metered spaces while on duty.
The passes issued last year expired Dec. 31 but Peduto wants Chief Operations Officer Guy Costa to develop a policy for their future use – if any – within 30 days.
2nd mistrial in 2012 double homicide
PITTSBURGH (AP) – For the second time, jurors have been unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a man charged in a double homicide at a western Pennsylvania housing complex.
The Allegheny County panel began deliberations Friday in the retrial of 21-year-old Richard Krista of Homestead, but reported they were deadlocked and a mistrial was declared Thursday.
Krista’s first trial in October before a different panel also ended in a hung jury.
Authorities allege that Krista killed 21-year-old Cory Ruder and 19-year-old Joseph Sherrill at the Mon View Heights housing complex in West Mifflin in May 2012.
Prosecutors said witnesses immediately identified Krista as the shooter, but defense attorney James Wymard cited a lack of physical evidence and said darkness, poor lighting, distance and foliage cast doubt on the identifications.
NY man to trial for 2 Pittsburgh rapes in ’92
PITTSBURGH (AP) – A New York man ordered to stand trial on charges he raped two Pittsburgh women in 1992 allegedly told a detective he chose the victims because “they had beautiful legs.”
Sixty-one-year-old Arthur Fryar, of Brooklyn, was arrested in September after a DNA sample he submitted to a national database after an unrelated New York arrest. That sample was tentatively matched to samples taken from the women who testified at a preliminary hearing Thursday.
Fryar’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Weinberg, says a more definitive test using another DNA swab taken from Fryar since his arrest would result in a long prison sentence if it also links him to the crimes.
Weinberg says he may challenge the charges under a Pennsylvania law that gives authorities only a small window of time to bring charges for decades-old sex assaults.
Casey defends Pittsburgh-area air base to panel
PITTSBURGH (AP) – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has sent a letter detailing reasons not to close a Pittsburgh-area Air Force base.
The Democrat teamed with other western Pennsylvania lawmakers to overturn plans to close the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon Township last September.
Casey released a letter Thursday to the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, in hopes the panel won’t again recommend closing the base when it issues a report to President Barack Obama next week.
Casey says the base, which has 2,000 employees, has saved $84 million by cutting the time it takes to inspect the C-130 refueling planes at the base.
Casey says the base also saves money by sharing four runways, fire protection and other services at Pittsburgh International Airport, arguing it would cost $400 million to do those same things at another location.
Man gets prison term for dead mom’s benefits
PITTSBURGH (AP) – A Pittsburgh man has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for collecting more than $300,000 worth of Social Security benefits meant for his mother – who died more than 40 years ago.
Sixty-five-year-old Chauncey Clinton, of Pittsburgh, was sentenced Thursday by a federal judge in Pittsburgh. He had pleaded guilty in September to collecting the benefits after his mother, Clara Clinton, died on May 7, 1973, until April 2012 when the payments were discovered.
U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak also ordered Clinton to repay $302,803, the outstanding balance on the $304,853 he acknowledged stealing.
Trial ordered in shooting outside Brashear high school
PITTSBURGH (AP) – A teenager has been ordered to stand trial in a shooting that wounded three students outside a western Pennsylvania high school last fall.
An Allegheny County judge held the 16-year-old Wednesday on three counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault, but dropped one other count of each charge and lowered bail from $500,000 to $100,000.
Prosecutors said three students heading home after classes ended at Brashear High School in Pittsburgh were hit by gunfire Nov. 13, but the wounds weren’t life-threatening. Authorities said the suspect told them he was retaliating for having been beaten during a drug-related robbery the previous month at school.
A defense attorney said Wednesday that a key witness plans to recant his statement to investigators, leaving prosecutors with little more than hearsay evidence.
Prosecutors said they hoped to locate the witness but argued that even without the testimony there was enough evidence to hold the defendant, since two witnesses pointed investigators to a spot where they later recovered a weapon wrapped in a towel inside a black backpack.
“That’s not hearsay. That’s fact,” Assistant District Attorney Brian Catanzarite said.
Four young people testified about the shooting but gave little more than “yes” or “no” replies to the prosecutor’s questions and confirmed their injuries. None of them identified the gunman.
“All of them testified, and not one single person said who shot them,” defense attorney Blaine Jones argued in seeking dismissal of the charges.
Brashear, which has about 1,400 students in grades nine through 12 about two miles south of downtown, was locked down briefly, but students were released to their parents about 90 minutes after the shooting.