Racial assault case moves to court

Five people charged with the July 7 racially-motivated attack on a black man in Avalon were ordered held for court following a preliminary hearing Oct. 19 before District Judge Tara Smith.

Although defense attorneys for the five defendants argued that charges of ethnic intimidation should be dismissed, Smith ruled that assistant district attorney John Fodi had presented sufficient evidence to send the defendants to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas for further legal proceedings.

A preliminary hearing is held to determine only if there is evidence that a crime has been committed and that the defendant is the person who committed that crime. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required, as it would be at the trial level, and the defense generally does not present evidence.

Last week’s hearing was postponed from Sept. 7, when only one defendant, James Kryl, 46, of the North Boroughs, was represented by counsel. Three others -- Crystal Lynn Shields, 23, of Tarentum, Natasha Dawn Bowers, 33, and Jeremy Ingram, 35, both of Roaring Springs, PA -- were represented last week by the Allegheny County Public Defender’s office and court-appointed attorneys. Terrance Stockey, 40, of Beaver, was reported hospitalized at the time of the first hearing, but appeared last week. He waived his right too counsel and participated in the preliminary hearing.

A sixth defendant, Travis Lee Cornell, 33, of Marianna, PA, is reported to have died in the period between the incident and the first scheduled hearing.

Victim Paul Morris Sr. took the witness stand at last Friday’s hearing to once again relate the details of what happened to him on July 7, when he stopped by the Jackman Inn in Avalon to drop off a thank you card to the bar’s cook, who had catered a graduation party for Morris’s son.

According to his testimony, he and the cook went out to the back deck where smoking was permitted. At that point, he said, Ingram, Stockey and both female defendants were already on the deck. Morris said that the group were looking at him and making comments, and that he heard someone use a racial slur. Morris said that, feeling uncomfortable, he decided to leave, but was blocked by Ingram and Stockey, who were joined by Kryl, at the door into the bar. At that point, Morris said, he was punched in the face by Ingram while he was looking at Kryl, who was telling him that they were going to eradicate people of color. Kryl grabbed Morris by the throat, and Stockey hit him with a beer bottle, Morris said. When Morris bent down to retrieve glasses that had been knocked off his face, both women began kicking him, according to his testimony.

The bartender who was on duty that night testified that she was alerted that there was a problem in the back room, and that when she walked in the room, Kryl was grabbing Morris’s neck in the area of his carotid artery. When she announced that she was calling the police, all six members of the group fled the scene.

Avalon Police officer Craig Cannella said that when police arrived at the bar, Cornell and Shields stopped when ordered to do so by the officers, and spoke with his partner, Officer Tara Mang. Kryl, Ingram and Bowers were stopped on Elizabeth Avenue ear Howden Street by Bellevue Police, he said. Police then received a report of someone hiding in the woods behind the Jackman, and that officers apprehended Stockey after a short foot pursuit.

Cannella testified that Kryl was wearing a t-shirt that bore the insignia of Keystone United, formerly known as Keystone State Skinheads, a group designated as one of the most highly organized state hate groups in the country. Ingram had a tattoo of a skinhead, Cannella said.

The Keystone United logo features a pit bull within an outline of the state. Cannella said that he was told by Kryl that KSS was a “fight group.”

All five are charged with simple assault and ethnic intimidation -- which is Pennsylvania’s hate crime offense -- as well as two counts of conspiracy.

Attorneys for the defendants primarily argued that there was insufficient evidence presented that the attack was racially motivated.

“It was simply a bar fight. It had nothing to do with race,” said Kryl’s attorney, Michael Foglia.

That argument was rejected by the judge, and the five are now scheduled for formal arraignment in the Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 6, at which time their case will be assigned to a criminal court judge.