How could he not be charged with "pre-meditated murder"?
Even a suspected pot dealer has the right to defend his home, lawyers say.
Police filed drug charges — but have not decided on whether to add homicide to the case — against a Port Vue man who fatally shot one of the intruders who tried to rob a marijuana-growing operation in his house.
“If a person is in their house legally, they still have the right to defend themselves, even if they are doing something illegal,” said Bruce Antkowiak, an attorney who teaches at St. Vincent College School of Law in Latrobe.“He wasn’t the initial aggressor. It’s a classic case of what is referred to as the ‘Castle Doctrine.’”
Two men identified as TaRon Patterson, 24, and George Langley, 18, both of McKeesport, entered a home on Liberty Way about 11:30 p.m. Thursday with plans to rob the homeowner of his marijuana, according to a criminal complaint.
They struggled with the homeowner, John Zyskowski, 62, before he began firing a gun at them, the complaint stated. Patterson told detectives that he tried to back up to escape, pulled out a gun and fired back at Zyskowski, grazing the homeowner’s head.
Patterson and Langley ran outside where a woman, identified as Melissa Runion, was waiting for them in a vehicle, police said. She first took the men to her home, then to UPMC McKeesport where Langley died about 11:45 p.m.
Relatives of Langley could not be reached.
Zyskowski was released from a hospital after treatment for a grazing gunshot wound on his head, Allegheny County police Lt. Andrew Schurman said on Friday. He was arraigned on charges of possession of marijuana, possession with intent to deliver and prohibited acts and released on non-monetary bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Patterson, who had a gunshot wound to his arm, is facing charges including attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and burglary. He was being treated at UPMC Presbyterian.
“That police later determined he might have been involved in illegal activity doesn’t change the fact that he had every right to protect himself,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris.
Zyskowski allowed detectives to search his home, where they found 29 marijuana plants, eight glass jars of marijuana, a bag of marijuana leaves, five handguns and eight long guns.
Antkowiak speculated that while Zyskowski did not have to allow police to search the entire home, he likely did so because he had been involved in a shooting.
“He was probably more concerned that they knew it was self defense,” Antkowiak said.
There was no answer at Zyskowski’s home on Friday.
Allegheny County police are investigating the shooting and will review the case with district attorney’s office to determine whether homicide charges should be filed, as is practice, said First Assistant District Attorney Christopher Connors.
“You have a right to defend your home,” Connors said.
Port Vue police Lt. David Petruski said officers had no criminal dealings with Zyskowski and only minor issues on the street.
“It’s generally quiet, other than the minor complaints,” he said.
Neighbors described Zyskowski as a nice man who keeps to himself and is known for his large vegetable garden.
“He’s very helpful,” said Margaret Hoffman, 46.“If anybody needed anything, you’d go to him, and he’d help you out.”
Jean Delsignore, 51, said she suspected something was going on, based on the number of people running into and out of the Zyskowski home.
“You could always assume something was going on, but you never knew,” she said.