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Gammage’s Mother Says Truth Will Win; Key Witness Challenged

October 18, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The defense lawyer for a white police officer accused of killing a black motorist called for a mistrial Thursday after a contentious exchange with a coroner who demanded the officer explain his actions.

Brentwood Lt. Milton Mulholland and Baldwin Officer Michael Albert face involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Johnny Gammage, who was pulled over as he drove home in his cousin’s Jaguar.

Mulholland’s lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, was angered when coroner Cyril Wecht, who performed a second autopsy at the request of the Gammage family, said Mulholland should explain himself to jurors.

``You tell me what my client did, tell me what my client did from A to Z,″ Thomassey demanded of Wecht, who appeared as a prosecution witness.

``No, it’s not for me to tell you what your client did,″ Wecht replied. ``It’s for the client to tell me, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what he did, what he was doing there and why he was participating in this.″

Thomassey immediately demanded a mistrial. Judge David Cashman recessed court until Friday morning.

Gammage’s mother, Narves Gammage, expressed optimism Thursday that the officers will be punished for her son’s death and bowed her head so she wouldn’t see photographs of his bruised body in court.

``There’s hope. There’s still hope. The truth always wins out,″ Mrs. Gammage said.

Defense attorneys have cited the lack of any major wound as evidence that Gammage died in a freak accident. Authorities said someone pinned him down and cut off the flow of air to his brain.

The image of Gammage’s bruised face also turned up outside court, where black leaders have criticized the selection of an all-white jury and protesters carried placards challenging the contention of Tom Ceraso, Albert’s lawyer, that the death resembled sudden infant death syndrome.

``Is this the face of a sudden infant death victim?″ one sign said. Another said the officers were being tried in ``Pittsburgh kangaroo court.″

Gammage, the cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Ray Seals, was driving home in Seals’ black Jaguar sedan when he was stopped. Police said they pulled him over because he was tapping his brakes.

The defense attacked the credibility Thursday of Frank Belajac, a white tow truck driver who is the only civilian witness to the 10-minute melee between Gammage and five officers.

Belajac testified Wednesday that police started the fight and piled on Gammage, and he described one officer as whacking Gammage with what appeared to be a billy club. His statements contradicted the police description of Gammage as a wild man.

On Thursday, both defense attorneys challenged Belajac’s testimony, particularly about his memory. The slow-speaking man said he still has memory loss from the rupture of a blood vessel in his brain eight years ago.

They also challenged Belajac’s delay in coming forward as a witness. Ceraso attracted some disapproving glares from jurors when he shoved a court transcript in Belajac’s face. Belajac said he did not come forward at first because he was afraid police would harm him.

``You lie, lie, lie, make a mistake, and then there’s another lie. Are there any other lies?″ Ceraso responded, and then sat down without giving Belajac a chance to answer.

Afterward, prosecutor Anthony Krastek thanked Belajac for testifying.

``I could see you were in some pain up there,″ he said.

Brentwood Officer John Vojtas’ involuntary manslaughter trial will follow Mulholland’s and Albert’s proceedings. Two other officers were not charged.

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