Welsh Speaks Out on Cook Forest Attempted Murder Verdict

CLARION, Pa. – On August 6, 2014, after more than four hours of deliberation, a Clarion County jury found Sean Smith guilty of Attempted Murder and all other charges.

Smith had been charged with Attempted Murder, two counts of Aggravated Assault, two counts of Simple Assault, Recklessly Endangering another Person, and Disorderly Conduct. A two day trial began on August 5th before Senior Judge Paul H. Millin. Assistant District Attorney Drew Welsh presented the case for the Commonwealth and David Shrager of Pittsburgh represented Mr. Smith.

The charges stem from an allegation that Smith struck another man multiple times on the head with a tire jack handle outside the Knotty Pines Restaurant and Lounge on the evening of August 17, 2013. At the trial, the Commonwealth presented numerous witnesses including the victim and his fiancé.

They testified that they arrived at the Knotty Pines at approximately 6 p.m. and shortly thereafter the victim’s fiancé was approached by Smith and asked where he could find drugs in the area. After being told about these comments, the victim approached Smith and confronted him. While testimony varied, no Commonwealth witness stated they saw any physical contact between the two men beyond the victim placing his hand on Smith’s shoulder.

The victim left the bar at approximately 9:45 and multiple witnesses testified that there was no further conflict or interaction between the victim and Smith in over three hours. The victim testified that as he was leaving the bar he heard someone running behind him and “cussing.” When he turned around he saw Smith coming at him and attacking him with an object. The victim first raised his arm to block the blow, but was then struck multiple times in the head. While on the ground and prior to losing consciousness, the victim stated he was able to kick Smith who was standing over him ready to deliver another blow.

As Smith was the fleeing the scene, an employee of the Knotty Pines grabbed ahold of him, but was not able to hang on. Smith was accompanied to the Knotty Pines by his girlfriend and another friend. When questioned by police, both women denied knowing Smith and said all they knew was his name was Sean and he was from Pittsburgh.


The Pennsylvania State Police escorted these women back to the campsite and briefly searched the area for Smith. Later that night campers alerted a Cook Forest ranger that they had seen a man matching Smith’s description acting suspiciously at the campground. This ranger then saw Smith at his girlfriend and friend’s campsite and called the State Police. Upon their arrival, Smith was found behind a tree and taken into custody. Trooper Shawn Nicewonger was the investigating officer in this case.

Smith’s attorney told the jury from the beginning of trial that Smith was going to testify and tell the jury about his “most terrifying evening.” The defense attorney argued that Smith’s actions were justified under the law of self-defense. Sean Smith did testify, telling the jury that while at the jukebox he was threatened by the victim. He said the victim threated to, “rip his head off” and he would “see him outside.” Smith said that after these threats he did leave the Knotty Pines a couple of times to check on two Chihuahuas located in the vehicle he arrived in.

On his first trip to the vehicle, he found a metal tire jack handle which he carried for the rest of the night shoved in his pants. Smith said that after he paid his tab, he told his female companions it was time to go and then went outside. Both he and his girlfriend testified that within “moments” or “seconds,” the victim was outside after Smith. The defendant said that while outside, the victim confronted him again and began to physically assault him. He was about to escape for a moment, but fearing for his life, he pulled the tire jack handle out of his pants and struck the victim over the head and fled the scene. He claimed that he fled the scene because he did not know anyone who was there and was unfamiliar with the area.

In his closing, Assistant District Attorney Welsh argued that the surveillance video from inside the bar showed that Smith had seen the victim and his fiancé getting ready to leave the bar. He argued, when Smith saw this, he left the building. Welsh also argued that the video showed the victim staying in the bar for nearly two minutes saying goodbye to other patrons after Smith went outside.

A cook that evening testified that she left at approximately 9:45 p.m. When she was leaving, the front door open outward and was held for her by Smith. She said Smith was already outside when he opened the door. A bartender also testified that she saw Smith outside the bar prior to the victim leaving and Smith had left a half consumed beer on the bar. The cook testified that as she was walking towards her car, she observed that Smith was still outside. She then turned around again when she heard a noise and saw Smith strike the victim with a rod looking object.

Assistant District Attorney Welsh argued that all of this evidence showed that the defendant did not leave and assault the victim within “seconds.” He argued that the defendant had gone outside to lay in wait for the victim to leave and ambush him.

The jury delivered their unanimous verdict following strict instruction from Judge Millan that there were to be no demonstrations from either side after the verdict. Smith is scheduled for sentencing on September 25, 2014, at which time the sentencing judge will consider the severity of the current offense, prior criminal history, as well as arguments from both the defense attorney and the Commonwealth.

“Violence of this nature has no place in Clarion County,” said Assistant District Attorney Welsh.

Welsh continued, “I am pleased the jury delivered a just verdict and hold Sean Smith accountable for his inexcusable actions. The previous year has been difficult for the victim and his family. While this verdict can never erase the severe harm that was done to him, I hope he and his family can begin to find closure. I would like to thank the jury, the victim and witnesses, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the staff of the District Attorney’s office.”

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