An Upper St. Clair father of three was held for trial Wednesday on criminal homicide and possession of drug paraphernalia charges.
Brandon Thomas, 30, is accused of fatally shooting Vaughn Simonelli, 55, of Chartiers Township, in the Shop 'n Save parking lot in the City of Washington on Oct. 18 after an apparent road rage incident.
Prosecution added the possession of drug paraphernalia charge to the case on Wednesday. Washington County Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas said that when Thomas was being searched at the Washington County Jail, several empty heroin stamp bags fell from his socks. There was no illegal substance detected in the bags.
Two witnesses in the parking lot at the time of the shooting testified seeing the men arguing and said that Thomas waving his gun over Simonelli's head. Testimony revealed that Simonelli's car was blocking Thomas' Hummer in a parking space.
Thomas' attorney Frank Walker said the defense will have witnesses at trial that will testify that Simonelli was ramming Thomas' Hummer with his car while the two were driving down Jefferson Avenue. Walker said Thomas was using self-defense and should be exonerated under Pennsylvania’s new Castle Doctrine law, which permits the use of deadly force against an attacker when threatened.
Washington County Coroner Tim Warco testified that Simonelli died from a fatal gunshot wound to the back of the neck. Simonelli also suffered a gunshot wound to the front of his shoulder.
Walker asked Judge Lawrence Hopkins to set bond for Thomas so he could go home to his wife and three children, ages 10, 6 and 2. The judge denied the request and Thomas remains in the Washington County Jail.
Thomas is a decorated war veteran with three purple hearts. The 173d Airborne Brigade Association Foundation is raising money for Thomas' defense fund through online donations and an online petition is being circulated asking the Washington County district attorney to release Thomas from jail. The petition has more than 600 signatures.
The Washington Observer-Reporter reports that Thomas was being investigated by the North Franklin Township police three days prior to the incident after they found him passed out behind the wheel of his Hummer in front of a closed bar wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a small arsenal of legal weapons.