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Trial witness: Pagans planned to give "lesson" to former member the night of beating

Zachary Yagnich testified in court for at least the third time on Wednesday that he learned that Troy Harris was at the Slovak Club in Charleroi. He notified members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club about Harris’ whereabouts before seven bikers arrived. Yagnich, vice president of the social club, let them in, and they proceeded to beat Harris so badly he spent the next several weeks in intensive care.

“I recall everybody in that group striking (Harris) at least once,” Yagnich, 27, said.

It was the second day of testimony in the jury trial of two members of the Pagans, Matthew Vasquez, 31, and Joseph Olinsky III, 46. They face charges including attempted homicide, aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit those crimes in connection with the April 18 beating of Harris, 54, of Fallowfield Township.

Olinsky and Vasquez are denied bail pending the verdict. The prosecution was expected to resume its case Thursday. The trial is expected to take at least another day.

Yagnich is charged with counts of conspiracy.

“I didn’t participate in a plan to hurt anybody,” Yagnich said under cross-examination by Stephen Colafella, Vasquez’s attorney.

However Yagnich understood his own role, he is now cooperating with Washington County prosecutors who say Vasquez and Olinsky were part of the group that attacked Harris, a former Pagan who by then had joined Sutars Soldiers Motorcycle Club, a rival group.

Harris’ injuries were severe enough that he had to be taken by helicopter to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he spent most of the next few weeks unconscious before his release to another facility.

The attack occurred about 10:20 p.m.

Harris’ wife, Michele Mackey Harris, testified she saw the group file in behind Yagnich and attack her husband. She was hit several times in the head and had a pinched nerve in her neck from the blows. By the end of it, she was on the ground with her spouse, trying to shield him from the blows. When she looked up, she testified she heard someone say, “(Expletive) Sutars Soldiers.” They left as quickly as they’d come in.

“They were kicking him as he lay in blood and vomit?” Deputy District Attorney Jason Walsh asked her.

“Yes,” Mackey Harris answered.

Yagnich, who said he was a supporter of the Pagans, testified he was at the Charleroi Belgian Club earlier in the evening and ran into Jamie Granato, who was engaged to Vasquez at the time. He told her he’d heard Harris was at the Slovak Club at 700 McKean Ave., Yagnich said.

Yagnich claimed Granato soon handed him her phone. Vasquez, a friend of Yagnich’s, was on the line. He asked Yagnich to confirm Harris’ whereabouts. Yagnich made sure of where Harris was, and informed Vasquez. At some point, he drove over to the Slovak Club parking lot, where he also spoke to Brian Kerushkin, the president of the Fayette City chapter, who said some men were going to show up and that Yagnich should leave. Instead, he stayed and warned them that there were cameras inside before they all went in. He used his key to open the door.

Granato, 28, is similarly cooperating with the government. She contradicted Yagnich’s testimony during her own turn on the stand Wednesday, when she said it was Yagnich who asked her to call Vasquez. She said he went out of earshot for the conversation, and she didn’t know why they were talking. When Yagnich returned, he said he was going to meet Vasquez.

Following a lengthy proceeding in chambers, Granato went on to testify for Walsh that her fiancé had abused her physically, emotionally and mentally during much of their yearslong relationship. Once, she said, he pulled her off another Pagan’s motorcycle when she unintentionally made him angry by trying to get a ride from someone else. She said Vasquez threw her to the ground and then over a guardrail. It was just one instance of violence she experienced at his hands.

Questioned by Colafella, Granato said she didn’t report any of what happened to law enforcement.

“I was afraid to call the police,” she said.

A Pagan who admittedly participated in the attack on Harris, Paul Cochran, 55, testified he was hanging out for the weekly meeting known as “church” at Junction Tavern in Perryopolis with members of the Fayette City chapter and some other locals. Michael Barringer, who goes by “Montana” and is the national sergeant-at-arms for the organization, called him over to talk. Cochran said Barringer told him to show some of the men where the Slovak Club was because Harris was there, and they were going to “teach him a lesson.”

Cochran took the instructions to mean they were all going to beat Harris up. It was a problem for them that Harris was at the social hall, which Cochran referred to as “our territory.”

Following his arrest, Cochran spent about five months in jail but decided to testify against his former comrades because his mother was dying and he wanted to see her. She passed away in December. He said he didn’t know what would happen to his case in consideration for his testimony.

The attorneys for the co-defendants asked witnesses about whether there was any evidence they meant to cause Harris injury. Cochran said under cross-examination by Renee Colbert, Olinsky’s court-appointed attorney, that he didn’t speak to her client specifically about killing or beating Harris.

Yagnich was the first of 12 people charged in connection with the beating. Other than Olinsky and Vasquez, most pleaded guilty, including Keruskin and Barringer.

Yagnich spent two weeks in Greene County jail. Late in June, he was released on house arrest with an anklet that tracks his movements in exchange for his promise to testify. Yagnich said he wasn’t sure what his assistance would ultimately mean for his case.

Colafella sought to counter the prosecution’s assertions of a conspiracy against Harris by asking Yagnich about what he knew beforehand.

Yagnich said that when the seven men showed up on motorcycles, he had a bad feeling, but didn’t know exactly what would happen.

“Had anybody told you anything that led you to believe (Harris) was going to be attacked?” Colafella asked.

No one had, Yagnich replied.


Alex Brandon 

Polling: Americans dissatisfied with the state of the union

Associated Press

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House last week. The president won impeachment acquittal Wednesday in the U.S. Senate.


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AP
Not guilty: Senate acquits Trump of impeachment charges

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump won impeachment acquittal Wednesday in the U.S. Senate, bringing to a close only the third presidential trial in American history with votes that split the country, tested civic norms and fed the tumultuous 2020 race for the White House.

With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, senators sworn to do “impartial justice” stood and stated their votes for the roll call – “guilty” or “not guilty” – in a swift tally almost exclusively along party lines. Trump, the chief justice then declared, shall “be, and is hereby, acquitted of the charges.”

The outcome followed months of remarkable impeachment proceedings, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House to Mitch McConnell’s Senate, reflecting the nation’s unrelenting partisan divide three years into the Trump presidency.

What started as Trump’s request for Ukraine to “do us a favor” spun into a far-reaching, 28,000-page report compiled by House investigators accusing an American president of engaging in shadow diplomacy that threatened U.S. foreign relations for personal, political gain as he pressured the ally to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the next election.

No president has ever been removed by the Senate.

A politically emboldened Trump had eagerly predicted vindication, deploying the verdict as a political anthem in his reelection bid. The president claims he did nothing wrong, decrying the “witch hunt” as an extension of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian 2016 campaign interference by those out to get him from the start of his presidency.

Trump’s political campaign tweeted videos, statements and a cartoon dance celebration, while the president himself tweeted that he would speak Thursday from the White House about “our Country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax.”

However, the Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there will always be “a giant asterisk next to the president’s acquittal” because of the Senate’s quick trial and Republicans’ unprecedented rejection of witnesses.

A majority of senators expressed unease with Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that resulted in the two articles of impeachment. But two-thirds of them would have had to vote “guilty” to reach the Constitution’s bar of high crimes and misdemeanors to convict and remove Trump from office. The final tallies in the GOP-held Senate fell far short.

On the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, the vote was 52-48 favoring acquittal. The second, obstruction of Congress, also produced a not guilty verdict, 53-47.

Only one Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s defeated 2012 presidential nominee, broke with the GOP.

Romney choked up as he said he drew on his faith and “oath before God” to vote guilty on the first charge, abuse of power. He voted to acquit on the second.

All Democrats found the president guilty on the two charges.

Both Bill Clinton in 1999 and Andrew Johnson in 1868 drew cross-party support when they were left in office after impeachment trials. Richard Nixon resigned rather than face sure impeachment, expecting members of his own party to vote to remove him.

Ahead of Wednesday’s voting, some of the most closely watched senators took to the Senate floor to tell their constituents, and the nation, what they had decided.

Influential GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee worried a guilty verdict would “pour gasoline on the fire” of the nation’s culture wars over Trump and “rip the country apart.’’ He said the House proved its case but it just didn’t rise to the level of impeachment.

Other Republicans siding with Trump said it was time to end what McConnell called the “circus” and move on.

Most Democrats, though, echoed the House managers’ warnings that Trump, if left unchecked, would continue to abuse the power of his office for personal political gain and try to cheat again ahead of the the 2020 election.

Even key Democrats from states where Trump is popular – Doug Jones in Alabama and Joe Manchin in West Virginia – risked backlash and voted to convict.

“Senators are elected to make tough choices,” Jones said.

Several senators trying to win the Democratic Party’s nomination to face Trump – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – dashed back from early primary state New Hampshire to vote.

During the nearly three-week trial, House Democrats prosecuting the case argued that Trump abused power like no other president in history when he pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, ahead of the 2020 election.

They detailed an extraordinary effort by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that set off alarms at the highest levels of government. After Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine, the White House temporarily halted U.S. aid to the struggling ally battling hostile Russia at its border. The money was eventually released in September as Congress intervened.

When the House probed Trump’s actions, the president instructed White House aides to defy congressional subpoenas, leading to the obstruction charge.

Questions from the Ukraine matter continue to swirl. House Democrats may yet summon former national security adviser John Bolton to testify about revelations from his forthcoming book that offer a fresh account of Trump’s actions. Other eyewitnesses and documents are almost sure to surface.

In closing arguments for the trial, the lead prosecutor, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., appealed to senators’ sense of decency, insisting “right matters” and “truth matters” and Trump “is not who you are.’’

Schiff told The Associated Press he hoped the votes to convict “will serve as a constraint on the president’s wrongdoing.”

“But we’re going to have to be vigilant,” he said.

Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump when she took control of the House after the 2018 election, warning against a partisan vote.

But a whistleblower complaint of his conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy set off alarms. The president’s call was placed the day after Mueller announced the findings of his Russia probe.

When Trump told Pelosi in September that the call was perfect, she was stunned. Days later, the speaker announced the formal impeachment inquiry.

The result was the quickest, most partisan impeachment in U.S. history, with no Republicans joining the House Democrats to vote for the charges. The Republican Senate kept up the pace with the fastest trial ever, and the first with no witnesses. Seventeen ambassadors, national security officials and others had testified in the House.

Trump’s star attorney Alan Dershowitz made the sweeping, if stunning, assertion that even if the president engaged in the quid pro quo as described, it is not impeachable, because politicians often equate their own political interest with the national interest.

McConnell braced for dissent, but with a 53-47 Republican majority he refuted efforts to prolong the trial with more witnesses, arguing the House should have done a better job.

Roberts, as the rare court of impeachment came to a close, wished senators well in “our common commitment to the Constitution,” and hoped to meet again “under happier circumstances.”


Harry Funk / Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter 

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

Pipe smokers’ “selfie”: Jim, left, and Harry Funk


Localnews
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Cecil woman dies after head-on collision in Canonsburg

A Cecil Township woman died at a Pittsburgh hospital Tuesday evening two hours after being involved in a two-vehicle crash in Canonsburg.

Deborah Turner, 54, died of multiple injuries, according to the Allegheny County medical examiner.

The accident occurred at First Street and Columbia Drive shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday, according to Canonsburg police.

Police said a witness told officers he was traveling behind Turner’s Toyota Corolla when she made a U-turn at First Street and Gladden Road. The witness said Turner was traveling north on First Street, crossed the center line and crashed head-on into a southbound vehicle, police said.

Police only identified the driver as a male.

Two women – a nurse and a former EMT – stopped to assist Turner, police said. Turner was transported by ambulance to Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, where she underwent surgery, police said. She could not be airlifted due to weather conditions.

Turner was pronounced dead at 9:19 p.m., according to the medical examiner.

The other driver involved in the accident was treated at Canonsburg Hospital and released, police said.

Canonsburg Volunteer Fire Department also responded. State police and Canonsburg police are investigating the accident.


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Washington council discusses demolition of downtown building

Washington Councilman Joe Manning wants to move forward on the demolition of the dilapidated building at the corner of Main and Chestnut streets.

He added a motion to today’s City Council agenda to allow the county’s Redevelopment Authority to begin the demolition process for the building, at 8-22 W. Chestnut St. and 93-95 N. Main St.

“It’s sitting in the middle of our downtown,” Manning said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s a hazard, it’s a danger, and I want to get it taken down.”

Manning made it clear at council’s agenda meeting Monday night that he’s tired of talking about the building, which he said has been vacant for 30 years.

“I think we’ve been talking about it for 30 years,” he said during the meeting. “I want it down.”

Councilman Ken Westcott responded to him Monday, “I think you better own it first.”

The city’s been dealing with ownership issues with the building for years. It’s changed ownership several times since 2017, and the only contact information for the owner is the address of the building.

“That building has gone back and forth so many times,” Manning said. “At one point, it was owned by some investors from Moscow. I have no idea who actually owns this building.”

For that reason, the city struggled to cite the owner for the dilapidated state of the property, which now has a $1 million federal tax lien.

“We all want it torn down, but we don’t own it,” Westcott said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s a $1 million federal lien on that property – it would be stupid and irresponsible for the city to take that on. If it was that simple, we would have torn it down two years ago.”

The city has $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding through the county’s Redevelopment Authority for the demolition of the building, Westcott said. He wants the city to have “site control,” or ownership, before they knock it down.

“Why spend $300,000 on a property I don’t control?” Westcott said.

Westcott said he’d rather first seek ownership of the building through the state’s Property Conservatorship Act, for which the city would need to apply with the name of a willing developer and a “best use” for the property. He said the city is also working to try to eliminate the lien, but it can’t so without ownership.

“Those things are being worked on,” Westcott said. “We’re not sitting around waiting for the building to fall down.”

Westcott doesn’t believe the $300,000 will cover the entire demolition, considering the size of the building, the time it’s been vacant and the grade on which it sits.

Rob Phillips, assistant community development director for the redevelopment authority, said the demolition will include removing any mold and asbestos, demolition and “making sure it’s not hazardous afterwards.”

“Until we get into the building and investigate all that’s required, it’s difficult to have a cost estimate,” Phillips said.

Westcott said he’d be willing to vote on a motion that allows the redevelopment authority to pursue requests for proposals on the demolition, “just to see what we’re looking at for the cost.”

The council members all agree that when the building is torn down, they’ll bring in an engineer to make sure it goes smoothly and doesn’t affect neighboring structures.

In December 2017, the city erected a fence around the building after first responders voiced concerns about the building’s structural integrity. Mayor Scott Putnam said the city recently took down the fence after an assessment was done on the building’s structural soundness.

“It’s not an imminent concern of it falling on the sidewalk,” Putnam said.

Manning doesn’t want to take that chance and let it remain there any longer, he said.

“A green space can’t fall down,” he said.

Putnam also said he’s concerned that the owner or a potential buyer could take advantage of the city’s investment by skating on that fronted $300,000, then building up the property for private use and profit.

Manning said should that happen, the city would provide that owner or buyer with “a bill for the demolition.”

“Nobody’s going to get a free ride out of this,” Manning said.