Murder Trial Set To Begin Today
WILKES-BARRE — Jury selection is set to begin today in the trial of a Fairmount Twp. man accused of gunning down a rival during an alcohol-fueled dispute last year.
Keith Williams, 42, is charged with shooting Brock Earnest, 40, of Montandon, in the chest with a shotgun during a fight inside Williams’ home at 1034 Old Tioga Turnpike, on Jan. 11, 2017.
Prosecutors allege the killing was an unjustified murder, while Williams appears to be poised to present a self-defense claim to the jury.
According to prosecutors, Earnest had called Williams’ girlfriend, Deidre Depiero, earlier in the night claiming to be “dying of mouth cancer.” She picked him up in Montandon and brought him to Fairmount Twp., where he and Williams began drinking beer, according to the charges.
The men got into what Depiero characterized as a “playful” fight in the living room that escalated, with Earnest pushing Williams and calling him names, according to prosecutors. Earnest then sat down on a couch and Williams went to a bedroom, returning moments later with a shotgun he used to shoot Earnest, she told police.
During questioning, Williams claimed Earnest had been hitting on his girlfriend and that he felt threatened because Earnest hit him.
According to court documents, the defense does not intend to contest the fact that Williams shot Earnest, but wants to argue that the shooting was done in self-defense.
As part of that claim, the defense is seeking to introduce a letter Williams got from the Social Security Administration in March 2017 informing him he qualified for disability payments based on conditions including diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, which causes weakness, numbness and pain in the extremities.
The filings suggest the defense intends to argue that Williams’ ailments made him “incapable of physically defending himself” and therefore needed to use a gun.
Prosecutors are seeking to block the defense from referring to Williams as having been deemed disabled by the government, arguing that Williams had not been classified as such at the time of the shooting and therefore the determination “could not have impacted (his) state of mind in any way.”
“It is quite plain that the SSA determination — a fact unknown to the defendant at the time of the murder — has no tendency, whatsoever, to make it more likely that defendant’s belief in imminent danger was subjectively or objectively reasonable or justified,” assistant district attorneys Michelle Hardik and Justin Richards wrote.
They also argue the government’s definition of “disability” is based only upon whether a person is able to work, and that it has a different meaning than the term’s common usage. Allowing the jurors to “inject whatever lay understanding of a legal term” they choose would be improper and prejudicial, they wrote.
Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas is expected to rule on the motion prior to jury selection today.
Williams has been jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility without bail since his arrest shortly after the shooting.
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