Man found guilty in racially charged shooting

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A judge has found a man guilty of voluntary manslaughter in a racially charged shooting outside a city hot dog shop, and not either of the more serious murder counts prosecutors sought.

Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning’s verdict on Monday means Isiah Smith, of Pittsburgh, faces a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison – not the life sentence or 40-year maximum Smith would have faced had the judge agreed with prosecutors that the Aug. 23 shooting of Zachary Sheridan, 24, was first- or third-degree murder.

Manning rejected arguments by public defender Aaron Sontz that the shooting was entirely justifiable self-defense after an alcohol-fueled argument outside the Original Hot Dog Shop, a popular eatery near the University of Pittsburgh campus.

Police and county prosecutors charged that Smith pulled a gun and shot Sheridan as he walked away from an altercation that began when some of Sheridan’s friends, who are white, argued with a black woman and used a racial slur. Smith, who is black, and his attorney argued Sheridan was the aggressor for first punching Smith.

“What is certain is the defendant brought a pistol to a fist fight,” Manning said, “a fist fight in which there was significant consumption of alcohol.”

Instead, the judge likened his role to that of a National Football League replay official because the 30-second sequence of events that culminated in the shooting was captured on surveillance video from a neighboring doughnut shop.

“I don’t agree with it,” Sheridan’s mother, Dee, told reporters outside the courtroom. “I mean, (Smith) had pulled the gun out a couple of times. (Sheridan) was shot in the back. He yelled, ‘I’ve been hit,’ and they walked away, right past him.”

Police and prosecutors said Smith intervened and gestured toward his gun – which he had a permit to carry legally – and said “I’m from the ‘hood” and “We don’t want to take it this far.”

Smith and his attorney argued that Sheridan’s punch split Smith’s lip and chin, which required eight stitches. But prosecutors and Sheridan’s friends said Sheridan threw the punch only after Smith aimed the gun at another one of Sheridan’s friends.

Sheridan was walking across the street away from the altercation when Smith assumed an aiming posture and shot Sheridan, the video showed.

But Manning noted the entire sequence of events took just 30 seconds.

“The video in freeze frame demonstrated a retaliatory act,” the judge said, which could have dictated a first- or third-degree murder conviction. “The video in real time demonstrates an unreasonable overreaction.”

As a result, Manning ruled Smith purposely shot Sheridan, but without the malice necessary to make the killing murder.

“The defendant believed he was in immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury, but his belief was unreasonable in light of the facts as they appeared to him at that time,” Manning said.

Smith’s family and attorney didn’t immediately comment on the verdict, and prosecutors declined comment.

“There’s no remorse from him,” Dee Sheridan said of Smith. “He shot my son in the back. I don’t get it.”

Smith will be sentenced July 2.