GREENSBURG – Facing capital murder charges in a St. Clair Township police officer's death, Ray Allen Shetler testified he raised his hands to surrender that night before gunfire erupted – but was shot anyway by an unknown man behind a tree.
Sitting on the witness stand just feet away from the jurors who will decide his fate, Shetler, 33, maintained he didn't fire back until he was shot in the shoulder – later admitting that he intended to gun down his attacker in response, to save his own life.
"Once I got hit ... I turned around and just started shooting and moving," Shetler said, testifying he fired from the hip toward a flashlight and gunfire. "I was running for my life."
State police and a wildlife conservation officer testified they spent hours after a St. Clair Township police officer was shot retracing his killer's footsteps through woodlands, a hiking path and the Conemaugh River.
It was part of a day in court that saw the the woman who called 911 for help before the shooting, Kristin Luther, testify her boyfriend didn't return fire until a bullet's impact knocked his rifle from his shoulder "right into his hands" – and an FBI expert cast doubt on the couple's story that Shetler responded by firing clumsily "from the hip" that night as he fled.
'I knew he wasn't 'serious'
Shetler and Luther both admitted to a heated argument that sparked the 911 call earlier that night, with both saying he fell asleep in a spare bedroom after drinking several beers that evening and that when Luther tried to wake him he, he responded by grabbing a baseball cap and throwing it "like a frisbee."
It struck her nose, causing it to bleed, causing the argument to intensify. Shetler, at one point, locked her into a first-floor bathroom, he said.
Luther said the pair had argued before "but nothing like this," and she testified that she only called 911 because she wanted him out of her house.
She said he'd never hit her before, but later added that she pretended to call 911 on him once before during a dispute, although she couldn't remember why it had started.
A criminal investigator spent Monday morning in court identifying evidence collected at the scene of a St. Clair Township officer's 2015 fatal shooting.
Prosecutors questioned that testimony, later calling on the case's lead investigating officer at the time, Cpl Michael McElfresh, to read from an interview he conducted with Luther days after the shooting, where she denied ever previously telling Shetler she had called 911.
Luther's frantic call to authorities the night of the shooting was played for jurors as evidence in the trial last week, and Peck cited it often while questioning the woman, who responded to questions in a calm, steady tone.
At one point, he reminded her that she told a 911 dispatcher Shetler had a gun and "threatened" to kill her and himself.
Luther said she recalled it but wasn't sure why she repeated it to the dispatcher, shrugging once and testifying "I knew he wasn't serious."
'Didn't know what was going on'
Within minutes, Shetler was outside, and Reed was near a tree pointing a handgun at him, ordering him to drop his weapon, Luther testified.
She said she realized Reed was a police officer, but said Shetler was on the other side of his truck, and didn't seem to hear the officer's orders.
Shetler's .270 rifle was slung over his shoulder, she and the defendant both testified.
A state trooper who apprehended Ray Allen Shetler following the gunfight that claimed the life of a St. Clair Township officer, testified that the New Florence man was belligerent and defiant when he was taken into custody at gunpoint hours later.
Shetler said he heard someone ask him for his name, but all he could see in the darkness was a flashlight directed at his face and a handgun pointed in his direction.
Within moments, there were calls – as many as three – from the man to "drop the gun," he said.
"I didn't know who he was. I just remember Kristin screaming ... and light in my eyes," Shetler said.
Under cross-examination, He insisted he directed the words 'F-- you" – a line recorded on the 911 call that night – to his girlfriend to stop her screaming.
Then, he said he raised his hands to surrender "and no sooner than I moved, gunfire erupted."
He said he ran for his life, with his rifle still over one shoulder until he was hit.
'Everyone carries guns'
Westmoreland District Attorney John Peck expressed disbelief. He asked Shetler why he didn't drop the gun and why Shetler remained steadfast that he wasn't sure the man in front of him that night was a police officer.
Attorneys in a New Florence man's first-degree murder trial painted different pictures in court of the moment St. Clair Township police Officer Lloyd Reed Jr. was gunned down in 2015.
Even if Shetler didn't notice Reed's uniform, Shetler agreed that he was aware his girlfriend called 911 to get him removed from the house, Peck noted. And then a man arrived with a flashlight and a gun, ordering him to "Drop the gun," Peck reminded him.
"And you don't understand that person could be a police officer?" Peck asked. "Wasn't that enough evidence?"
"No," Shetler responded. "Everyone carries guns around in our area – everyone."
"I didn't see no lights or sirens," he added.
Shetler said he "didn't look back" after firing his gun in response. He said he ran down 8th Street and then swam across the Conemaugh River.
Peck asked if he was concerned about Luther's safety, given that he maintained he left her behind with a man he described as an armed trespasser, and Shetler said he was running scared and never gave it a serious thought.
The New Florence man said he "zoned out" after crossing the river and didn't remember putting his rifle down or leaving it anywhere.
Police and a Pennsylvania Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer have testified they found it underneath vegetation and that Shetler's blood-soaked shirt was found along another area of the river, near the Conemaugh Generating Station.
Opening statements are expected to be delivered Thursday in the capital murder trial of a New Florence man charged with gunning down St. Clair Township police Officer Lloyd Reed Jr. in 2015.
He blamed a loss of blood – and the stress of crossing the river injured – on his trouble remembering details after the shooting but said he remembered the moment he heard sirens in the distance.
He said he made up his mind to head home, hoping for answers to what happened.
Peck questioned that, too.
He pointed out that Shetler took a path away from New Florence, and then hopped into a pickup truck and began driving it nearly a mile in the opposite direction of the borough before it stalled out.
Shetler admitted to taking the truck but insisted he wasn't fleeing.
"It was dark," he added, saying he got lost.
He said he encountered a man with a white truck – later determined to be the generating station's security officer – and admitted telling police who apprehended him minutes later that he thought the man might have shot him.
'I didn't know," Shetler maintained, adding that the man was "acting weird" and kept his distance until police arrived.
Over the past five days, prosecutors have presented a list of local and state law enforcement officers, as well as two paramedics, who have testified Shetler made various statements about the shooting, or vulgar, belligerent comments toward police.
One trooper accompanying him on an ambulance ride to Memorial Medical Center testified this week that Shetler claimed he "ran out of bullets" and "wished he would have run into more troopers in the woods" earlier that night.
Shetler denied all of that on the witness stand, saying he didn't talk to any police officers until he met with McElfresh at Memorial Medical Center.
He maintained he asked to talk to McElfresh because one municipal officer told him "that I was lucky, because he would've killed me," he said, adding that he heard similar statements throughout that morning he was apprehended.
He said another officer indicated he'd do all he could to make sure he got raped in prison, and spend the rest of his life there.
At a few points, Shetler seemed to indicate certain statements were changed to make him look worse.
He said at least one investigator seemed to ignore his statement that Reed fired first.
Shetler said a gun he wasn't accused of using in the crime was moved into his girlfriend's vehicle but that he was certain he left it in his truck.
Prosecutors were steadfast that the gun was found in the other car, citing previous testimony.
They sought to contradict Shetler's statements that he fired haphazardly the night Reed was killed.
'Anything for him'
Longtime FBI Special Agent Michael Hochrein testified he spent several days assisting investigators after the shooting,
Permitted in court as a veteran crime scene expert, Hochrein said he processed "thousands of different points" to reconstruct and map out the gunfight scene around the Luther home, including areas where shell casings fell and bullets struck trees.
Bullet impact points, holes and other evidence were used to determine the path Shetler's rounds traveled, he said, leading him to dispute statements by Shetler – and Luther – that he fired the lethal shot "from the hip."
Shetler stands at 6 feet tall. The round Shetler fired struck Reed horizontally across his chest, not in an upward motion that a hip shot would have caused at that elevation, Hochrein said.
The round he fired also damaged a tree in the same horizontal trajectory, at more than 5 feet, 4 inches above the ground, Hochrein told jurors.
Shetler said he heard Hochrein's testimony but countered that he was standing on 8th Street alongside the house when he fired, and maintained the road was higher than the adjacent property.
"You're saying that road is two feet higher?" Peck responded.
Shetler said he wasn't an expert on trajectory but disagreed with Hochrein's findings.
Luther also was in court for Hochrein's testimony but said that her boyfriend fired his bolt-action rifle "aimlessly" from his hip while running after he was shot that night.
Peck responded moments later by noting that she once told Shetler in a telephone call that she would "do anything for him."
The district attorney entered a copy of a Facebook post as evidence that showed Luther hoped to marry Shetler.
Luther said that was true, but insisted a proposal he made "was a joke."
"I would do anything ... to help him," she said. "But not lie."
Prosecutors indicated they plan to re-introduce several witnesses to provide rebuttal to Shetler's defense Thursday.
Westmoreland County Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio told jurors the case will likely be handed over to them by the afternoon.
If convicted of first-degree murder, his most serious charge, Shetler would face a separate phase that could mean a death sentence.