Trial begins for Clairton man accused of homicide

Assistant district attorney Chris Stone laid out his case quickly and efficiently for the jurors.

Isaac Cole, 22, was shot six times in Clairton the night of Dec. 29. The three people with Mr. Cole at the time, his mother, girlfriend and little brother, all identified the shooter as John Sanders. There is video surveillance from that evening of Mr. Sanders driving a minibike at a gas station near the crime scene where Mr. Cole had stopped. And police found particles that can come only from gunshot residue on Mr. Sanders’ hand and on the gray sweatshirt they said he was wearing in the gas station video.

At the conclusion of the case, Mr. Stone told the jurors Tuesday afternoon, they would have witness, circumstantial and scientific evidence they could use to find Mr. Sanders guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But defense attorney William Difenderfer, during his opening, told the panel of eight women and four men that it’s not quite so simple.

“This is much more complex than Mr. Stone wants it to be,” he said. “I can tell you, he didn’t do it.”

The night of the shooting, Mr. Difenderfer said, Mr. Sanders, 21, was celebrating Christmas with his cousins in Clairton — one of whom received a minibike for the holiday. They were all taking turns riding it.

At the same time, Mr. Cole’s family members were involved in a bitter dispute involving the money and belongings of his father, the defense attorney said. He called it a “civil war” that divided Mr. Cole, his younger brother and mother, from his two older brothers.

The night of the shooting, Isaac Cole, his mother, brother and girlfriend had gone out to look for the mother’s Mercedes, which they said had been taken from where they were living in Glassport. They were driving around Clairton where the older brothers were living trying to find it, Mr. Difenderfer said.

Mr. Difenderfer told the jurors to pay attention to the prosecution’s witnesses, who initially told police the shooter was wearing a black hoodie pulled up around his face. And that the witnesses repeatedly used the phrase, “They shot him,” and not, “he shot him.”

“Listen to the words and how they’re said, because it’s so important,” Mr. Difenderfer said.

More than that, the defense said, there is no motive for why Mr. Sanders would want to kill Isaac Cole.

Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.

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