CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Surrounded by family, a tearful Jerry Rowe walked out of the Franklin County Courthouse a free man Thursday after a jury acquitted him in the 2010 shooting death of his son, Nathaniel Rowe.
The jury deliberated less than two hours before finding Rowe not guilty of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. On Wednesday, Judge Douglas H. Herman agreed to a defense request for a judgment of acquittal on first-degree murder, meaning that charge could not be considered by the jury.
Rowe declined to comment on the outcome of the trial as he left the courthouse.
“I thought it was the right decision by the jury,” defense attorney David Breschi said after the verdict. He called the shooting “a classic case of self-defense.”
Rowe, 57, was charged in the Oct. 16, 2010, death of his 27-year-old son at their Duncan Avenue home in Chambersburg.
Breschi told the jury during his closing argument Thursday that the shooting of Nathaniel Rowe was justified.
During the trial, a toxicologist testified that Nathaniel Rowe was extremely intoxicated and high levels of cocaine were in his system the day he was killed.
The toxicologist, Dr. Michael J. McCabe Jr., said the combination of alcohol and cocaine would have made Nathaniel Rowe “a raging bull.”
Jerry Rowe, testifying in his own defense Wednesday, said his son had been assaulting his girlfriend and his mother, Pamela Rowe, before the shooting. He testified that he meant to fire a warning shot into the wall and did not learn he had killed his son until hours later.
“If I hadn’t took some kind of action, one of us would have gotten seriously hurt,” Rowe testified Wednesday.
Nathaniel Rowe ran outside and collapsed in the side yard, according to charging documents. Jerry Rowe stood on the front porch with a gun to his head for about an hour before surrendering to Chambersburg police, Breschi said Monday in his opening statement.
In her closing argument Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Laura Kerstetter told the jury that Jerry Rowe should be convicted of third-degree murder. A conviction on a third-degree murder charge could have resulted in a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.
Kerstetter said Jerry Rowe had time to consider his actions, having gone into his bedroom to retrieve a handgun from under the mattress, take the safety off, come out and shoot his son from a distance of about 26 feet, hitting him in the arm and chest.
An avid hunter and army veteran, Rowe also was familiar with firearms, Kerstetter told the jury.
During his standoff with police, Rowe said he did not want to go to jail, Kerstetter said. That and his suicidal gesture showed “he knew what he did was wrong,” she said.
“He had consciousness of guilt,” Kerstetter told the jury.
While Rowe testified that his son had assaulted his wife, Kerstetter told the jury the couple made no mention of that to police in interviews conducted after the shooting. The assault was not ongoing when Nathaniel Rowe was shot, she said.
“The victim was not in the act of committing a crime when the shot was fired,” Kerstetter told the jury.