PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The prosecution has rested its case against an Army veteran accused of shooting and killing a man following a road rage incident in Washington County.
The defendant, Brandon Thomas, took the stand Tuesday morning.
Thomas told a Washington, Pa. detective that his first encounter with Vaughn Simonelli happened along Jefferson Avenue. He claims Simonelli pulled up beside him making gestures.
Thomas told Lt. Daniel Stanek that he thought he might have known the man, but realized he didn’t when Simonelli yelled, “Why don’t you let people in?” after a lane change.
Thomas said he replied, “Sorry, I didn’t see you,” and then pulled away.
Thomas told the detective that Simonelli followed him to Shop ‘N Save where he charged him and pushed and shoved him. Thomas said he retreated to his car and shut the door.
He said Simonelli kept on coming and threw two punches through the window. One of those punches “rung his bell,” according to Thomas.
He then turned away, pulled his weapon and fired “high and tight” twice.
The detective testified that he found no remarkable injuries to Thomas’ face, even though Thomas claimed he was hit hardest on his left cheek.
Investigators found a number of stamp bags commonly used for heroin in Thomas’ sock as well.
With regard to the shell casings found at the scene, none were found inside Thomas’ Hummer. They were found outside of the vehicle.
“I would expect to find shell casings inside the car if he fired the weapon inside the car,” testified Lt. Stanek.
A prosecution expert testified gunshot residue in the car could have come from gunfire but also could have been present from him if he got back in the car after firing.
The bags that were consistent with heroin stamp bags had no trace of heroin, but Thomas had the presence of morphine in his system. A defense expert testified that could have come from heroin or codeine or poppy seeds.
All Army Warrant Officer Jeremiah Minor, who served with him in Afghanistan, knows is he’s sticking by his friend.
“He was able to return fire on the enemy and neutralize their location and basically saved my life and the platoon’s life,” Minor said.
That’s why he testified as a character witness and a reason why he supports Thomas’ case.
“Under the threat of attack, and you show a person a weapon and they back off and you retreat, and then they come at you again, I mean you can just deduct that person is going to take your weapon to shoot you or kill,” Minor said.
Although the defendant himself chose not to testify, his wife Beth Ann Thomas testified that a police investigator told her investigators weren’t sure how to handle a case like this, and that was why it took so many hours to charge him.
But on the stand, Washington City Police Lt. Daniel Stanek testified that Thomas, and witnesses, gave police conflicting stories that had to be checked out.
“If his first story checked out, he would have been released, ” Stanek testified.