Homicide trial begins with evidence from 2019 shooting
Ikeem Fogan, a man accused of slaying a customer at a convenience store and wounding another during a robbery, will not face the state’s death penalty if declared guilty, an assistant district attorney said in the trial’s opening Tuesday in Lycoming County Court.
Fogan, 23, of Williamsport, allegedly entered the Newberry Uni-Mart at around 9:10 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2019, put his arm around Rhonda McPeak’s neck and pointed a gun at a cashier while demanding money.
When the cashier, JoBeth Wetzel, tried to hit the man’s arm, he allegedly shot her in the shoulder and then shot and killed McPeak before leaving the store, according to police.
Chief Public Defender Nicole Spring said the most important element for the jury to consider in this case would be whether or not they can build a bridge between the presumption of innocence and guilt beyond a shadow of doubt.
“There are weaknesses in the Commonwealth’s case that will come out through the week,” Spring said.
Martin Wade, first assistant district attorney, said “The best is yet to come,” with regard to evidence.
Wade also clarified the state will not seek the death penalty in this case.
Tuesday’s testimony and evidence set the scene for the aftermath of the shooting through text messages, videos and the testimony of Wetzel, the woman who tried to hit the shooter and then was shot.
Noah Stroup, the co-defendant in the case, also testified before the court. Stroup is accused of helping plan the robbery and acting as a lookout in the case.
Wade presented many pages of text messages between Fogan and Stroup and said the messages showed how the two planned the robbery. Stroup read several texts to the courtroom that revealed they wanted to “hit” the store across from Dunkin in “the berry.”
Fogan and Stroup planned to meet at 8:30 p.m. before the robbery, Stroup read from the texts.
During a line of questioning from Spring, Stroup told the jury he has a criminal record and was on probation due to former offenses. He also admitted he had a warrant for his arrest at the time of the robbery and that he needed money.
Stroup went on to admit when he was interviewed by state police that he left several facts out to minimize his and others’ involvement in the robbery. He testified he did in fact use a phone to communicate with Fogan, which he said he later hid, and that the vehicle they used to go to the robbery was his girlfriend’s, among others.
The state also provided several samples of digital evidence Wade said would show what Fogan did after the shooting.
Among these submissions was testimony and video surveillance that Wade said placed Fogan in the area of the shooting while wearing only boxers.
Video from a motion-sensitive camera viewing Anthony Snyder’s porch showed a shirtless man present without Snyder’s permission, Snyder testified, between 10 p.m. and midnight the night of the shooting.
At 10:50 p.m., Sean Forker and George Whaley were confronted by the sight of a man in his underwear carrying a trash can up Race Street, where the two live as neighbors. The man told the two he needed to throw stuff away and Forker and Whaley told him he needed to leave.
Forker called 911 and reported the incident because he heard there was a shooting earlier in the night. He followed up with police when he saw a photo of Fogan on social media and identified him as the shirtless man in court.
Whaley also said Fogan asked him for a ride, which Whaley denied and told Fogan to leave.
John Bower, who lives on Newberry Street, testified that the night of the shooting, he saw an individual run through a parking lot and jump over a fence. Video surveillance later shows city police searching the area and forming a perimeter to try and flush whoever was moving out to no avail.
Wade said all this sets up today’s testimony, and offered a preview for testimony in the coming days.
“DNA evidence will be admitted later that ties Fogan to a number of [pieces of] evidence,” Wade said.
The trial, presided over by county Judge Marc Lovecchio, is set to continue through Monday.