Tionesta shooting verdict mixed

By BEN KLEIN

bklein@timesobserver.com

Ruth Maxine Angert, accused of fatally shooting her husband in their Tionesta Township cabin in November of 2012, was found guilty of a count of criminal homicide Friday after nearly five hours of jury deliberation.

Day two of the Angert trial at the Forest County Courthouse included testimony from the defendant and expert testimony on the phenomena known as “sympathetic discharge”.

Elizabeth Feronti, co-council for the public defender, called Angert to the stand where she testified that she’d known her husband for nearly ten years.

She attested she left the Tionesta Fire Hall alone and waited for her husband on the back porch at the cabin.

When Larry returned home, “he starts yelling,” Angert said in tears to the court. “He’s telling me to leave… to walk to Butler and to not to walk to his home.”

Feronti later asked Angert to leave the witness box and demonstrate for the court how she fell when her husband shoved her to the ground.

“He’s spitting in my face,” she said. “He’s laying on top of me with his hand around my throat [and] he just pinned me.”

Angert said her husband then got up and sat on the couch with a beer while she headed towards the door.

On the way to the door, Angert said she saw Larry “scoot” off the couch.

“I grab the gun,” she said. “I pulled it out of the bag – out of the holster [and] he’s on me quick.”

Angert testified her husband was pulling her hands, saying, “He has his hands on top of mine.”

“There was a struggle?” Feronti asked.

“Yes.”

“Then?”

“The gun goes off,” Angert replied.

“Did you intend to shoot your husband?” Feronti asked.

Angert responded, saying, “No.”

Later, Ziegler also asked Angert to exit the witness stand and demonstrate, using a prop gun, how she was holding the weapon during the incident.

Angert responded that she did have the gun in her hands when it was fired.

She attested to Ziegler that her husband had told her to leave the cabin, that he was the owner and that she followed him inside when he returned because her car would not start.

“When he had you by the throat, were you hurt?” Ziegler asked.

“My feelings were hurt,” Angert responded.

“You were upset by what he said?”

“Yes,” Angert replied. “He could’ve dragged me out of there.”

“But he didn’t?” Ziegler asked.

“No,” she said, adding that her husband sat on the couch.

“You saw no movement and decided to get the gun?” Ziegler continued.

“Yes,” she responded.

She attested that she knew the canvas bag was there and that her husband kept his gun in it.

During re-direct questioning, Angert told Feronti the gun went off, “when he’s pulling it.”

“Normally, Ruth would’ve just left, like she did before,” Angert’s attorney, public defender Todd Woodin, said during closing arguments. “But on that night, Larry came home drunk and angry and cut his wife down. Larry had told his wife to leave, but wouldn’t help her and when Ruth decides to leave and grabs clothes, he shoves her to the ground and spits in her face while telling her to leave.

“Ruth gets up, starts for the door, and from the corner of her eye, Larry makes a provocative movement. She reacts. Grabs the gun for some unknown reason and Larry Angert is across the room. There’s a brief struggle and Larry was dead before he hit the floor.

“I think this is a situation where the district attorney is throwing a bunch of stuff at you to see if it sticks. The commonwealth slept on this. They didn’t follow up on anything… maybe Ruth pulled the trigger, maybe Larry pulled the trigger. We don’t know.”

Woodin said throughout her interview with police and the initial 911 call that Angert showed, “no indication of intent.”

“Never heard her say why [she] grabbed the gun or what she’d do with it,” Woodin said, adding Angert never said. “Not once, ‘I wanted Larry dead,’ or, ‘I wanted to shoot him.'”

During her closing arguments, Ziegler said Angert grabbed the gun, “Out of the bag, out of the holster, and puts her finger on the trigger,” instead of leaving.

Dr. Robert Levine, of Pittsburgh, testified that “sympathetic discharge” is a situation in which a firearm held in one hand reacts to an action such as squeezing in the other hand.

“Basically the right reacts to the left?” Woodin asked.

“Yes,” Levine said, adding that it’s not unusual for a hand to clench when a person is falling down.

“Sympathetic discharge” is consistent with the grappling that Angert described in her interview with the Pennsylvania State Police hours after she is alleged to have shot her husband.

Levine also testified that the powder pattern Angert’s husband Larry’s jacket was consistent with the gun discharging within close proximity at a low angle during a struggle between two people.

“Is there any indication that Mrs. Angert was falling,” Forest County District Attorney Elizabeth Ziegler asked Levine during cross-examination.

“No,” he responded.

Ziegler then asked if Levine had information that “sympathetic discharge” actually happened in the case.

“No,” he said, adding that he was not able to determine whether the trigger was pulled intentionally or by “sympathetic discharge”.

Retiring for deliberations at approximately 4:30 p.m., the jury returned with a verdict around 9:30 p.m.

Angert was ultimately found guilty of a charge of criminal homicide – involuntary manslaughter – possession of a deadly weapon.

She was found not guilty on charges of aggravated assault, criminal attempt – aggravated assault and criminal attempt – homicide.

A charge of involuntary manslaughter was withdrawn.

Before the trial began Friday two jurors were excused and replaced with alternates for falling asleep during portions of testimony the previous day.