Witnesses recount events that led to fatal shooting

February 07, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Michael Harrigan
Michael Harrigan

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — “That’s my dad,” Chad Wetzel said softly through tears when presented with a crime-scene photograph Monday on the opening day of a murder trial in Franklin County (Pa.) Court.

His father, Steven Wetzel, was shot dead in the early morning of May 27, 2010, at age 47. The victim’s Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., neighbor, Michael Peter Harrigan, is charged with criminal homicide in his death.

The prosecution and defense said in opening statements there is no dispute Harrigan shot Wetzel. However, defense attorneys James Reed and Scott Rolle say Harrigan, 30, acted in self-defense.

The trial, which was preceded by jury selection of nine men and five women, is expected to continue through Thursday. Judge Douglas Herman is presiding.

Assistant District Attorney Jeremiah Zook’s first three witnesses, Wetzel’s two sons and a friend, described the events of the night.

Chad Wetzel said his father took him to a drug-and-alcohol class, followed by a bar in Waynesboro, Pa., on May 26, 2010. At about 11 p.m., they went to Steven Wetzel’s home on Blue Ridge Avenue, where Chad Wetzel’s mother and girlfriend engaged the two men in an argument about drinking.

All witnesses said that argument occurred in Steven Wetzel’s yard.

“It was semi-loud. It was a disturbance, I’d say,” said Nathan Wetzel, Chad’s older brother, who was at the home.

The three witnesses said Harrigan called out from two properties away that the argument should be moved indoors. They said Steven Wetzel yelled back, then went toward Harrigan’s home to argue there. Nathan Wetzel said he soon followed in an attempt to talk to his father and diffuse the situation.

“Mr. Harrigan said, ‘Steve, listen to your son and walk back to your house,’” Nathan Wetzel testified.

Two Washington Township, Pa., police officers arrived at the Wetzel home to talk about what had happened. Witnesses differed on that exchange.

“He talked to them, wasn’t belligerent or anything,” Nathan Wetzel testified. “I just recall him telling the police he didn’t want any problems between him and his neighbor, things of that nature.”

On cross-examination, Chad Wetzel’s friend, Wendy James, answered affirmatively when asked if she heard Steven Wetzel threaten to “kick Harrigan’s a--” and do the same to officers who got in the way.

After the police left, Nathan Wetzel and James said they joined Steven Wetzel on a trip to AC&T in Smithsburg to buy cigarettes. When they returned to the mobile home, Nathan Wetzel said he thought his father stepped outside to smoke, while James said Steven Wetzel commented he was going to Harrigan’s “to talk to him about what his problem was.”

Nathan Wetzel, James and Chad Wetzel, who was in bed a mile away, all said they heard the gunshot.

“I jumped up and ran outside,” Nathan Wetzel testified, saying he saw his father lying in the middle of the road.

James drove Nathan Wetzel to Chad Wetzel’s mother’s home to awaken him. They drove past Steven Wetzel and said they didn’t see him moving.

“Was there any thought in your mind to call 911?” Zook asked.

“No,” Nathan Wetzel said, saying he didn’t have his phone and knew his father was dead.

Zook asked James about her driving.

“Did you have to maneuver around Steven’s body?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

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