ALIQUIPPA (KDKA) — The Beaver County sheriff on trial for allegedly threatening to shoot a news reporter took the stand in his own defense Thursday afternoon.
Following his testimony, the defense rested its case.
At one point, Sheriff George David testified that John Vranesevich told him his story was the first step in bringing down a public official.
The sheriff asked, “Why do you want to get rid of me? Only a felony could get rid of me.”
At this point though, the most serious charge he faces, terroristic threats, is a first degree misdemeanor which carries a maximum five years in prison if convicted.
He told the jury he believed that Vranesevich, the operator of the Beaver Countian website, was angry at him for not doing more to restore his partner to a police job for which he was suspended in Ambridge and stormed out of his office weeks before the confrontation at issue in this case.
He also testified he never spoke to Beaver County Prothonotary Nancy Werme after she used profanity with his wife about an election dispute. He admits they became political enemies.
But David denied he pulled a gun on the online reporter, but admitted a slapjack was on his desk. However, he denied he threatened the reporter with the object.
Regarding the gun, David was asked by defense attorney Lee Rothman: “Did you pull out your gun?”
“That never happened,” replied the sheriff. “I was shocked. Nothing happened. I just couldn’t believe he said that.”
Regarding the so-called slapjack, among items in his office confiscated at the courthouse, he said, “I used it for a paperweight. I told him we used to use this in Aliquippa.”
Rothman: “Did you ever do anything with that toward John Vranesevich?”
“No,” replied the sheriff. “I just put it on the desk.”
But David admitted on the stand that he said he would kill two other people if he knew he was dying he next day out of anger. Also, he said he really didn’t really mean it.
Rothman: “Did you ever threaten him?”
David: “No. I did say something about Beaver county Times reporter J.D. Prose and Nancy Werme. I said if I knew I was going to die tonight, I would kill them.”
Rothman: “Why did you say that?”
David: “I was upset.”
Rothman: “Did you mean it?”
David: “No, I was just upset.”
Two witnesses, though, Vranesevich and Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Tibolet, testified a gun was produced by the sheriff.
“He’s not sure why they fabricated this event,” says Rothman. “He always felt that Mr. Vranesevich fabricated as a result to become popular and align himself with a woman who was powerful politically here in Beaver County.”
Rothman was referring to Prothonotary Werme.
Ambridge Police Chief James Mann was called to the stand Thursday morning before David’s testimony. Mann testified that David once asked him whether he could use his influence to reinstate online reporter Vranesevich’s partner, Brad Davis. Davis, a former Ambridge Police officer, had been suspended for “horsing around” with another officer early on Christmas morning in 2011.
Vranesevich also served as an advocate for Davis during an unemployment compensation hearing. The office signed a separation agreement with the borough days before Vranesevich’s conversation with the sheriff.
The defense claims the dispute was fueled by Vranesevich’s disappointment that more wasn’t done on his partner’s behalf.
Mann also testified that he could hear Werme speaking angrily on the phone with David’s wife over political issues.
Earlier in the trial, Vranesevich’s relationship with Davis was discussed because the defense claimed that he had a vendetta against the sheriff because David didn’t do enough to get Davis a job. Vranesevich and Davis married recently.
David is charged with terroristic threats, simple assault by menace and witness intimidation.
The trial began Monday morning. Vranesevich testified that he was threatened by David as he prepared to investigate a story about bids for deputy uniforms. He said David threatened him with a billy club and a gun.
David is also accused of threatening to cut off the hands of a political campaign worker.
Initially, David was facing 11 misdemeanor charges including obstruction of justice, intimating witnesses and terroristic threats.
Closing arguments are expected Friday.