It took jurors about three hours Thursday to find Roger Mitchell Riera guilty of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault in Lycoming County Court for killing Andrew Scott Gula on Sept. 18, 2011, at Fourth and Market streets.
The trial, which began Monday, focused on an exchange of words that took place around 1:50 a.m. outside Rumrunners Pub and Eatery at 341 Market St. between Gula, Riera and a group of people with Riera.
An angry Gula had to be restrained by others as Riera and people with him walked toward a parking lot near West Fourth and Court streets. Riera claimed Gula ran at him, threatening to kill him. He said he told Gula to stop twice before taking a .32-caliber pistol out of his pocket and shooting him.
Riera's family sat in Judge Nancy L. Butts' courtroom with their heads down, some wiping their eyes and quietly crying as the jury forewoman read the verdict.
The conviction means Riera could spend nearly 40 years in state prison.
In his closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Aaron S. Biichle told jurors the killing of Gula was not justified.
"This was not a kill-or-be-killed situation," he said.
Biichle said witnesses on both sides gave inconsistent stories that didn't match up with Riera's when he testified Wednesday.
"When Riera took the stand, he had the most inconsistencies of all," Biichle said.
Although Riera said he yelled for Gula to stop before he shot him, no witnesses confirmed that statement, Biichle said.
Riera's claims that Gula was reaching for a weapon were unfounded, too, according to Biichle. No weapon was found on Gula or the crime scene, other than a casing from Riera's gun.
"Andy Gula wasn't reaching because he didn't have a weapon," Biichle said. "There was no weapon and Roger Riera knows it."
He said Riera easily could have retreated, as Gula was half a football field away from him when he was let go from the person restraining him.
"Did he have to kill him? He could have done a lot of things differently," Biichle said. "He could have punched him in the jaw. He could have stepped to the side and knocked him over."
Jeana A. Longo, Riera's public defender, agreed that witnesses' stories were different. She said that was one reason jurors should have a reasonable doubt about convicting Riera.
She said almost a year has passed since the incident and witnesses may not have remembered everything from that night.
"Maybe people fill in the blanks," Longo said.
She said Riera was in fear for his life as he walked away from the situation.
"He acted in self-defense. What more could he have done? All that matters is what Mitch believed at that second," Longo said. "Mr. Riera did not intentionally kill Mr. Gula. He shot him once. He thought he shot him in the shoulder. It was only his intent to stop him from attacking him."
Riera's sentencing will be in late October or early November, according to Butts.