CLEARFIELD – The case against a Luthersburg man who is accused of assisting in a DuBois woman’s suicide in January of 2015 will go to the jury Wednesday in Clearfield County Court.
Brian Lee Schaffer, 44, of Luthersburg is facing charges of manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, criminal homicide, aiding suicide and involuntary manslaughter.
District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr. is presenting the case on behalf of the commonwealth. Schaffer is being represented by defense attorney Gary A. Knaresboro, Esq., of DuBois. President Judge Fredric Ammerman is presiding over the case.
The charges against Schaffer stem from an incident Jan. 2, 2015 in DuBois when the victim allegedly shot herself with Schaffer’s gun. On Wednesday the jury heard testimony from a forensic pathologist, a toxicology expert, a firearms expert and the arresting officer.
On the date in question, Corporal Matthew Robertson of DuBois City police arrived at the scene at the same time as Officer Casey Doherty. Officer Paul Brosky was already at the scene, and directed him into the living room of the residence.
Once inside Robertson said he observed a female seated in the middle of the couch. She was bleeding severely from her right temple, nose and mouth and taking slow, intermittent breaths. County dispatch was requested to expedite emergency personnel to attempt to save the victim’s life, he testified.
Once the victim was removed from the residence, Robertson remained at the scene. He observed a lot of blood on the couch but indicated there wasn’t any more found in other areas of the residence. On the floor, Robertson observed a gun in front of the couch, and it was located slightly to the left of the victim.
Robertson said police collected a spent casing and two cellular phones. Doherty, he said neutralized, collected and secured the gun within his patrol vehicle. Robertson conducted an initial interview with Schaffer at the scene.
Schaffer told him he wasn’t living at the residence but stayed there two or three nights a week. He said he was upstairs when he heard the back door open and close. He went downstairs when he heard a bang and found the victim had shot herself.
Later on Jan. 2, 2015, Robertson said Doherty conducted an interview with Schaffer at the police station. He said he initially provided a similar account but then changed his story significantly to admit seeing the victim shoot herself.
“It was a reason for concern,” he said, “and we continued our investigation.” On Feb. 19, 2015, Robertson said he and Cpl. Randy Young interviewed Schaffer again and he changed his story several times.
For example, Robertson pointed out inconsistencies in relation to how the victim got the gun, who loaded it and where Schaffer was when he claimed the victim shot herself. He said because police collected three different written statements, Schaffer was asked to do a recorded audio/video interview.
Shaw proceeded to play the recording of an approximately 45-minute interview Robertson and Young conducted with Schaffer. During the interview, Schaffer said he and the victim had argued throughout the night, she had accused him of cheating and had called him a liar.
In order to “prove a point” to the victim, Schaffer admitted to retrieving his gun from his truck and bringing it inside. He said he removed the magazine and aimed it at his head, stating “If I’m lying, I’m dying.” When it didn’t go off, Schaffer said he told the victim he wasn’t lying because he wasn’t dead.
When the victim wanted to see the gun, Schaffer said he gave it to her. When she asked about the bullets, Schaffer said he showed her the loaded magazine and then loaded the gun while it was in her hand.
Schaffer said the victim then pointed the gun to her head and stated to him, “Don’t think I won’t do it.” He said he told her not to do it, but she shot herself. “I was right there …. I was right in front of her. I was that close to her when the gun fired,” Schaffer told police during the recorded interview.
When asked by police, Schaffer denied he put the gun to the victim’s head. He also denied that he pulled the trigger and went on to state that he didn’t intend for the victim to die that day.
Schaffer told police that after she had shot herself, the victim was gasping for air and he couldn’t stand watching her suffer. He admitted to contemplating about shooting her and compared it to “putting down a horse.” Schaffer said he thought about shooting her and then himself but couldn’t go through with it.
Schaffer admitted to police that he was aware the victim had a history of mental health issues and suicidal ideations. He also admitted to buying meth and bringing it to the residence to share with the victim.
Dr. Michael W. Johnson, a forensic pathologist at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, testified he performed an autopsy on the victim Jan. 3, 2015. During his examination, he observed a bleeding wound on the victim’s head.
At the conclusion of his examination, Johnson indicated he determined the cause of death was a single gunshot wound. An entrance wound, he said, was located at the right temple, and he recovered bullet fragments from within the wound.
Johnson said he also concluded that the gun was within very close range and within an inch or possibly even touching the victim’s head when it was fired. He said there wouldn’t have been an exit wound given the fact that he recovered bullet fragments during his examination.
Joanne Sell, a toxicology expert from Health Network Laboratories, said she certified the toxicology report on the blood collected during an autopsy on the victim. She said it showed there were multiple substances in the victim’s blood, including alcohol, meth and amphetamine.
Sell said the amount of alcohol in the victim’s system was the equivalent of one drink and below the commonwealth’s legal limit. However, the victim had 3750 nanogram/milliliter of meth in her system. “It’s way above the therapeutic range,” she testified.
Sell noted that meth metabolizes into amphetamine. Also, she said the report showed there was a small amount of Fentanyl in the victim’s blood, but it’s a drug commonly used to treat patients after a traumatic injury or during resuscitation efforts.
Cpl. David J. Burlingame, a firearms expert at the Pennsylvania State Police’s Erie Regional Crime Lab, also testified for the commonwealth. He examined the Bersa semi-automatic pistol and determined it functioned as it was designed to.
Additionally, he said he performed various drop and shock tests, which failed to induce a discharge from the pistol. Finally, he determined the spent casing collected at the scene was discharged from the pistol.
After the commonwealth rested its case, Knaresboro motioned for the dismissal of the charges of criminal homicide and involuntary manslaughter. He argued that there wasn’t anything presented by the commonwealth that showed Schaffer pulled the trigger.
Shaw countered that the commonwealth didn’t have to prove Schaffer pulled the trigger.
At that point, Ammerman declared that the commonwealth had satisfied its burden on the involuntary manslaughter charge. However, he sought additional arguments from both sides so far as the criminal homicide charges.
Ammerman asked for explanation from Shaw about how a suicide could be considered a homicide. Shaw explained it was possible if the suicide occurred while the victim was being pressured, and in this case, he called attention to the significant factors that Schaffer and the victim had argued, he then handed her the gun and loaded it for her, even though he was aware of her hearing voices and having other mental health issues.
Shaw told Ammerman it was a question that should really be decided by members of the jury. When asked by Ammerman, Shaw said there wasn’t any case law for him to present with it being such a “novel” case.
Ammerman subsequently ruled that the commonwealth may only proceed with the “theory” that Schaffer can be found guilty of first- or third-degree murder if it’s their belief that Schaffer was responsible for pulling the trigger.
Schaffer chose not to testify in his own defense Tuesday afternoon. Knaresboro presented a 2014 report from the Clarion Psychiatric Center, which detailed the victim’s history of various mental health issues, and then he rested his case.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday with closing arguments. Ammerman will then charge members of the jury and send them into their deliberations.