Witnesses gave different, and sometimes contradictory, testimony Monday in Lycoming County Court during the opening day of the murder trial against Roger Mitchell Riera. The 24-year-old Riera is accused of fatally shooting Andrew Scott Gula, 20, at the corner of Market and West Fourth streets in the early morning hours of Sept. 18, 2011.
Riera's lawyers said he acted in self defense and only after yelling for Gula to stop as the intoxicated man charged toward him after being restrained.
But prosecutors said Riera acted in haste by shooting an unarmed man who was engaged in a verbal exchange with him.
Riera is charged with third-degree homicide, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and two counts of aggravated assault. Gula died after being shot just below the neck with Riera's .32-caliber handgun.
The shooting took place after Riera and Gula became involved in an argument outside of Rumrunners Pub and Eatery, 341 Market St.
Aaron S. Biichle, assistant district attorney, said Gula was being served alcohol at the establishment, and was intoxicated by three times the legal blood alcohol level.
"How he's getting served, we don't know," Biichle said. "He was doing what a lot of 20-year-olds do, unfortunately - blowing off steam."
After Riera, who was with at least two other friends, exchanged words with Gula, he became fixated on him and became enraged, according to Jeana A. Longo, Riera's public defender.
"He did what he had to do to protect himself," she said. "He had to stop Andy from coming after him, so he shot him."
Longo said Gula threatened Riera by telling him he was going to find him at his home and kill him. She also said Riera tried to calm Gula down and offered a handshake but was snubbed. Longo said Riera and his friends walked away from the situation only to be charged by Gula.
But witness Horace Fletcher V, of Williamsport, said he heard Riera threaten Gula just before he was shot near a community park at about 2 a.m.
Fletcher said he was walking from the Old Corner Hotel, 328 Court St., to Old School Pizza, 12 E. Fourth St., when he saw what he called a "scuffle" in front of Rumrunners. He said he walked that way to see what was going on and to talk with a friend he saw in front of the bar.
Fletcher said he heard Gula and Riera yelling at each other but didn't know exactly what they were saying. The yelling match lasted for one or two minutes before Riera and the group he was with walked away, he said.
"I turned to my friend ... and said, 'it looks like there's going to be a fight,' " he said.
Fletcher, who testified he did not know either man prior to the incident, said he saw Gula running toward Riera.
"I told you I'd (expletive) kill you," Fletcher said Riera told Gula as he was just feet away from him.
"He had it straight up in the air aimed at Andy Gula," Fletcher said of Riera's gun.
The witness added that he did not hear Gula threatening Riera as he charged him.
Longo asked why Riera's alleged statement about killing Gula was not in any written or recorded police interview.
"Right before he shot him, he said that," Fletcher insisted.
Fletcher also said another man - Brian Savage - had Gula in a bear hug, restraining him from going after Riera.
Savage, who also did not know either Gula or Riera, testified that he tried to hold Gula back but was not physically restraining him. He said he decided to try to diffuse the situation by stepping into the middle of things because Gula appeared to be by himself.
"I just stepped in between them, with my back to Mr. Riera, and put up a hand barrier," he said.
Savage said Gula was upset that he could not be served more alcohol because the bar was closing. He said Gula also attempted to take a bottle of beer from one of Riera's friends as they were leaving.
While he was acting as a barrier, Savage said he didn't remember Gula threatening Riera with specific threats. He said it was more of a "pushing match between him and Andrew."
Before Riera and his friends walked away, Savage said Riera "head-faked and lunged at (Gula)," calling the move "one last disrespectful gesture."
Savage said whatever he did to help calm Gula down was taken away with the action.
As Riera and his friends walked out of sight north on Market Street toward the community park area, Savage said he let Gula go. Savage said he "took off running in pursuit" of Riera.
"It wasn't 10 seconds and we heard a pop. Everyone froze," he said. "I was in kind of disbelief."
Savage said he saw Gula on his back while his friends started to administer CPR.
"Maybe he was asking for an ass-whooping, so I let him go. I didn't think anything beyond that would happen or I wouldn't have let him go," Savage said.
It was witness Jade Yeagle who testified that Gula said he knew where Riera lived and would kill him. She said Gula appeared to be intoxicated and was offended by something Riera said to him.
"You told people you made me cry," Gula told Riera, according to Yeagle.
At that point, Gula began cursing at the group, including Riera, Yeagle and another friend of theirs.
Yeagle said she was walking about 10 feet in front of Riera as they moved toward Fourth Street away from Gula, who was being restrained by Savage in front of the bar. She said she heard Gula's footsteps running closer to the group.
"I heard a shot and that was pretty much it. He was on the ground," she said of Gula.
Asked by Longo if Riera told Gula to stop, Yeagle said, "he may have said 'stop', but I don't remember that."
Witness Rahim Baines said he saw Gula being held back from Riera. Baines said Gula ran past him and ran toward Riera.
"I saw a flash and a loud noise. He fell to the ground," he said of Gula.
He estimated Gula was shot within an arm's length of Riera.
Baines testified that he did not know Gula to carry a knife and never saw him with a knife.
Rafael Montero, who was with Baines at the time, also said he saw Gula charge toward Riera, but "I didn't see either of them really reach for anything."
Montero said Riera left the scene after shooting Gula.
"He got out of there. He wasn't there for too long," he said.
Riera called 911 immediately after shooting Gula. A recording of the call was played for the jury.
"I just shot somebody," Riera is heard saying. "The kid kept charging me, he kept coming."
A city police car was within 100 feet of the scene at the time of the call, according to Patrolman Eric Houseknecht, who was driving the unit that found Riera in a municipal parking lot along West Fourth and Court streets within a few minutes.
Judge Nancy L. Butts is presiding over the trial, which continues today.