Greensburg, PA – A man who fatally shot a St. Clair Township Police Department (SCTPD) officer before fleeing the scene in a stolen pickup was acquitted of murder on Friday evening.
Ray Shetler Jr., 33, faced a potential death sentence if he would have been convicted on counts of first- or third-degree murder, The Tribune-Review reported.
As the verdict was read, the widow of slain SCTPD Officer Lloyd Reed wept, while Shetler’s family erupted with cheers, KDKA reported.
“I started yelling and of course the sheriff made me stop,” Shetler’s stepfather, Mark Porter told WPXI. “But I wanted to get up and run around.”
“Justice was served, he self-defensed himself,” Porter said.
According to prosecutors, Shetler became enraged on Nov. 28, 2015, after his girlfriend, Kristen Luther, woke him up just after 9 p.m., the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Luther said that she had been assaulted by Shelter, who had been drinking, at that she was bleeding from her nose.
“This would not have happened if she just let me sleep,” Shetler told Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Investigator Michael McElfresh just hours after Officer Reed’s murder, according to The Tribune-Review.
According to WTAE, Shetler testified that Luther was “acting crazy, like women do.”
Although the New Florence domestic disturbance was in the PSP’s jurisdiction, their nearest trooper was 23 miles away, so Officer Reed responded to the call as an agency assist, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported.
The officer approached the residence on foot, as Luther remained on the phone with the 911 operator.
Shelter confronted officers with a rifle, and the officers ordered him to drop the gun.
Shelter and his girlfriend later testified that Officer Reed started shooting. Luther used his rifle to fatally shoot Officer Reed.
Suddenly, Luther began to panic.
“Oh my God, they’re going to [expletive] shoot him,” Luther was heard screaming during an audio recording of the emergency call.
“Oh my God, oh my God… officer is shot!” she said a moment later.
Investigators said that Shetler then stole a pickup and fled the scene, before he swam across the Conemaugh River and discarded his clothing and the .270 caliber rifle he used to shoot Officer Reed, The Tribune-Review reported.
Shetler was arrested approximately six hours later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Under questioning, Shetler said he was familiar with Officer Reed, and that they had discussed selling firewood in the past.
“I just talked to Officer Reed the day before,” Shetler later told Investigator McElfresh, according to The Tribune-Review. “I do remember him saying, ‘Put the gun down.’ There was gunfire, and I just reacted and shot from the hip.”
Officer Reed, 54, was killed from a single round, which entered the officer’s chest under his left arm. The bullet penetrated his heart, and exited through his right arm. He died within minutes, forensic pathologist Dr. Ashely Zezulak testified.
“I thought he was kidding when he said he would shoot me and him,” Luther was heard saying in dashcam footage, according to WTAE. “He’s drunk! He’s drunk! Oh my god – I can’t believe he shot somebody.”
Shetler was hit in the shoulder during the shootout, and medical personnel testified that he was “belligerent” and showed “no remorse” after the fatal incident.
One medic told the court that Shetler said he “wished more cops would have come after him,” and that he had “ran out of bullets.”
PSP ballistic expert Robert Hagins told the court that Officer Reed fired six rounds during the exchange, and that another officer who arrived on scene fired one. Shetler fired three.
Shetler and Luther claimed that Officer Reed fired the first shot, and Shetler’s attorney argued that his client did not know he was shooting at a police officer. He claimed that Shetler acted in self-defense.
“The defendant admitted on the stand to trying to kill Officer Reed,” District Attorney John Peck told the jury in his closing arguments, according to KDKA. “I ask you to draw a reasonable common sense conclusion that the person holding that .260 rifle was holding it at the shoulder and aimed. The defendant’s claim that he was firing wildly from the hip… The evidence doesn’t show that.”
During Shelter’s first interview with police, he claimed he didn’t know he shot at an officer. However, during his second interview he said that he knew the police were at his house, according to The Tribune Review.
After 20 hours of deliberation, the jury not only acquitted Shetler of murder, but they also found him not guilty of charges of terroristic threats and simple assault.
He was convicted of theft and receiving stolen property, and faces up to seven years in prison.
Officer Reed served a total of 25 years in law enforcement, and had been with the SCTPD for five years prior to his murder, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
He is survived by Rosemarie, his wife of 15 years, the Greensburg Tribune Review reported.