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HARRISBURG, March 19 — In opening statements in a racially-charged Pittsburgh trial today, a jury is expected to hear prosecutors argue that a white police officer acted unlawfully in the 2018 fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen who was running away from him.
Officer Michael Rosfeld, 30, is charged with a single count of criminal homicide in the death of Antwon Rose, Jr., 17. The June 19 2018 shooting took place in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 11 miles (17.7 km) from downtown Pittsburgh, where the trial is being held.
Rosfeld allegedly shot Rose three times as he ran from a traffic stop: in the face, the elbow, and a fatal shot to the back, authorities said. The car in which Rose was a passenger was suspected of involvement in a drive-by shooting just minutes earlier.
"He (Rosfeld) was not acting to prevent death or serious bodily injury," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said after Rosfeld's arrest last summer. "It is my position that he is not entitled to a justification charge to a jury as a defence."
Rose's death, the most recent in a nationwide string of killings of African Americans by white police officers, spawned weeks of street protests in downtown Pittsburgh.
City officials are concerned there could be more protests, especially if Rosfeld is acquitted, and plan to close off streets around the county courthouse during the trial.
Patrick Thomassey, a veteran Pittsburgh defense attorney representing Rosfeld, said last June that Rosfeld is not guilty of murder.
"I don't think it's a murder case," said Thomassey. “At most, it’s an involuntary manslaughter case. What was this officer supposed to do?"
Since June, Judge Alexander P. Bicket imposed a gag order on both the prosecution and defense, barring further comments to the media.
Bicket ordered a jury to be picked 200 miles east in Dauphin County, which surrounds the state capital of Harrisburg. The case had drawn little attention there, and some of the jurors picked to hear the case had not heard about it at all.
The 12-member panel contains nine white and three black jurors. All four alternate jurors are white. The jurors will stay in Pittsburgh for the duration of the trial.
In 2015, a Dauphin County jury acquitted Lisa Mearkle, a female police officer from Hummelstown who fatally shot a suspect in the back. — Reuters