Man Acquitted in Double Homicide
Paula Reed Ward- May 10, 2017
A day after declaring that they were deadlocked, the jurors deliberating the case of a double slaying in Etna found the defendant not guilty of all counts.
Joshua Huber, 31, of Etna was expected to be released from the Allegheny County Jail within a few hours of Wednesday’s verdict.
Mr. Huber was on trial for fatally shooting Derek Schindler, 30, of Shaler and Melissa Zuk, 22, of McCandless about 7 a.m. on April 15, 2016, in his Vilsack Street apartment.
Police said he killed them after yelling at them to leave his apartment following a night in which they were partying and using drugs.
The jury of five women and seven men began deliberating Monday afternoon. On Tuesday they told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Thomas E. Flaherty they were deadlocked. The judge instructed them to continue working, and they returned Wednesday with a verdict.
In closing arguments on Monday, the prosecution asked the jury to find Mr. Huber guilty of first-degree murder, and Mr. Huber’s attorneys argued that he should be found not guilty because he was defending himself at the time he fired the shots.
“Were his actions reasonable given his state of mind and the circumstances involved?” asked defense attorney Bob Andrews.
Mr. Andrews recounted the events of that morning, telling the jurors that Ms. Zuk and Mr. Schindler physically attacked his client that morning when he asked them to leave his home.
He pointed out that his client’s blood and hair were found on the wall and that Mr. Huber’s DNA was found under the fingernails of both victims.
Mr. Andrews also reminded the jury that his client was diagnosed with a broken nose and a closed head injury that morning after he was taken into custody.
Daniel Fitzsimmons, chief trial deputy for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, however, told the jury in his closing that there was no independent evidence showing Ms. Zuk and Mr. Schindler provoked the shootings.
To prove self-defense, Mr. Huber had to demonstrate a reasonable fear that he was in danger of death or serious bodily injury.
“There’s no doubt there’s blood on the wall, and there’s no doubt his hair is on the wall. but is that proof he thought he was about to die?” Mr. Fitzsimmons asked. He told the jury that Mr. Huber’s head injury was treated with Tylenol.
But Mr. Andrews had an answer to that.
“Don’t let them diminish the injuries here because that blood and hair don’t lie,” Mr. Andrews said. “What was going to happen if he didn’t put an end to the beating?”
Following the verdict Wednesday afternoon, there was some hostility in the hallway from the victims’ families, who shouted obscenities at Mr. Huber as he was led away by county sheriff’s deputies.
Defense attorney Michael Waltman said he believed a turning point in the case was playing Mr. Huber’s 911 call made shortly after the shootings.
“Giving them audio of the moments after, it puts human emotion into it you can’t get any other way,” Mr. Waltman said.
In that call, Mr. Huber tells the 911 dispatcher that he had been attacked by two people in his home.
During the trial, upstairs neighbor Donald Cox, who held Mr. Huber at gunpoint until police arrived, testified that for five or 10 minutes before the shooting, he heard arguing in the apartment downstairs, including a male voice yelling, “’Get out of my house.’”
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.
First Published May 10, 2017, 12:34pm
-WPXI, May 10, 2017
A man was found not guilty Wednesday in the deadly shooting of two people inside an Etna apartment building.
Joshua Huber was charged in the deaths of Melissa Zuk, 22, and her boyfriend, Derek Schindler, 30. After more than two days of deliberations, he was found not guilty on all counts.
Upon hearing the not guilty verdict, members of the Schindler and Zuk families broke down in court.
"I just have to believe there is karma, and Josh will hopefully get his one day," said Emily Dailey, Schindler's sister.
Huber showed no emotion in the courtroom when he learned he was a free man. His attorney, Michael Waltman, told Channel 11's Steven Fisher Huber and his family can now move on with their lives. "They are overwhelmed with joy right now," Waltman said. "It's been a long ride for them. They were looking at losing their son for the rest of his life."
Police said Zuk and Schindler were shot and killed April 15, 2016, on Vilsak Street.
Huber's attorney claimed throughout the trial the shooting was in self-defense.
On Monday, jurors wanted to hear the 911 calls made by Donald Cox, the neighbor who heard the gunshots last April, called 911, confronted Huber and held him at gunpoint until police arrived.
Huber also placed a 911 call, telling the operator his version of the events.
In the call, he told the dispatcher the woman attacked him, and police said Huber shot the couple. Prosecutors alleged the argument started over $40 that was missing.
During the initial testimony, prosecutors called multiple forensic scientists from the Allegheny County Crime Lab who investigated the gun used to kill Zuk and Schindler. The experts concluded Huber fired the weapon or stood close to where the gun was fired.
Huber will spend one more night in jail after his acquittal.