Paragraph 4 reads: "Tierney also suggested that West, a recovering heroin addict, was unable to understand his actions because earlier in the day he received a massive dose of methadone and later voluntarily had consumed a bottle of medication prescribed for depression."
Attorney: Victim provoked murderer
By Rich Cholodofsky
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
The attorney for a South Greensburg man told a Westmoreland County jury on Monday that 20-year-old Candace Cohen caused her own death by provoking her former boyfriend into a fatal stabbing last year.
Defense lawyer Jerome Tierney, in his opening statement to jurors in the first day of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Jeffrey C. West Jr., 28, did not dispute that his client fatally stabbed Cohen. Instead, Tierney attempted to mitigate West's actions.
"This was a wheel of passion that spun and, unfortunately, when it ended, Candace Cohen was dead. She started the wheel to roll," Tierney said.
Cohen, the young mother of a 5-year-old girl, was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 2004, outside Mr. Toad's bar in downtown Greensburg. Prosecutors contend West was upset after being rebuffed in his attempts to reconcile with Cohen, whom he had dated for about a year and lived with for a period of time.
Tierney also suggested that West, a recovering heroin addict, was unable to understand his actions because earlier in the day he received a massive dose of methadone and later voluntarily had consumed a bottle of medication prescribed for depression.
But the defense yesterday unveiled its new theory of the case, one that put much of the blame for the fatal confrontation on Cohen.
"He thought he was coming to her rescue, but out in the alley the wheel changed. Now she's saying that he's a piece of .... That's when Jeff looses it," Tierney said.
Tierney told jurors that West was guilty of nothing more than voluntary manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. If convicted of first-degree murder, West faces a mandatory sentence of life behind bars.
Allen Powanda, Westmoreland County first assistant district attorney, told jurors that West gave a detailed confession to police, in which he described a series of events that suggest he planned to kill his former girlfriend.
But Tierney said that Cohen instigated those events through several calls she made to West earlier in the evening. At the time those calls were made, Cohen was out on the town with her new boyfriend, Chad Baker, and another man.
The trio had gone to Mr. Toad's shortly before 11 p.m. Baker said it was West who had repeatedly called Cohen on her cell phone during the evening.
Several witnesses who testified yesterday saw a man, later identified as West, attack Cohen in an alley outside the bar.
Tom Boscia, 29, of Irwin, told jurors that Baker had become upset with the calls from West that Cohen received earlier in the evening. He said he even attempted to speak with Cohen about the calls during a brief conversation in the ladies room at the bar.
It was then, Boscia testified, that he saw a man who introduced himself as West come into the bar, seek out Cohen and escort her into the alley. Boscia paid his bar tab and went outside.
"I saw Jeff West was holding her, then uppercutting her really fast," Boscia said.
Initially, Boscia and other witnesses said they didn't know that Cohen had been stabbed.
Another witness, Kimberly Nace, testified she overheard part of the conversation between West and Cohen.
"I was walking by and heard the female say, 'I can't do a relationship right now,'" Nace said.
Boscia and Baker, who told jurors he rounded the alley corner and saw West running away, chased after Cohen's assailant. Baker caught up with West several blocks away on Main Street and tackled him from behind, then the two men began to fight.
During that fight, Baker was stabbed several times. West also is facing aggravated assault and attempted homicide charges for that stabbing.
Under questioning from Tierney, Baker said he regretted taking Cohen out to the Greensburg bar that night and felt partly responsible for her death.
"Yeah, I felt guilty. There's a little girl now without a mother, an awesome girl who's dead, and family members who will be upset. Yeah, I felt guilty for saying let's go there, for going outside (the bar) to get our coats. I'm upset we went anywhere that night," Baker testified.
The trial, which is expected to last about seven days, will continue this morning before Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec.
Rich Cholodofsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (724) 830-6293.