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Jury deliberating in Schuylkill murder case

Published November 22. 2019 08:50AM

Testifying at his murder trial Thursday, Eric Mumaw said that he didn’t take cellphone photos of David Gombert after punching him with brass knuckles and shooting him in the chest. Also, Mumaw said, none of those pictures were taken before he called 911.

“That’s not how I remember it happening,” Mumaw said. “The phone was in photo mode – it was clearly taking pictures by itself.”

Mumaw, 32, of Kline Township, is charged with shooting Gombert, 27, of Beaver Meadows, during an incident at Mumaw’s residence in McAdoo Heights on Nov. 1, 2016.

Mumaw is charged with first- and third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, prohibited offensive weapons, possessing an instrument of crime, simple and aggravated assault, terroristic threats, recklessly endangering another person, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. The jury of four men and eight women were scheduled to begin deliberations this morning.

According to previous testimony by Pennsylvania State Police forensic examiner Lori McDaniel, six cellphone images of Gombert’s body were taken on Mumaw’s phone between 9:06 and 9:07 that morning, with Mumaw making the 911 call at 9:09. Two more images were taken after the 911 call.

Mumaw testified Thursday that his phone “was taking pictures by itself” while he was speaking with the 911 operator. According to previous testimony by Schuylkill County Director of Public Safety Scott Krater, the 911 call lasted from 9:09 to 9:14, when first responder McAdoo Police Officer Fred Lahovski arrived.

Mumaw said he only deliberately took one photo, a picture of his injured hand – the tip of the ring finger on his left hand had been shot. The fact that Gombert’s body was in the same picture wasn’t on purpose, Mumaw said.

“It wasn’t deliberate (to include Gombert’s body), it was to get better lighting.” Mumaw sent images to his mother’s cellphone at 9:22, while police were present.

During interviews with state troopers on the day of the incident, and two days later, Mumaw described the physical altercation between he and Gombert as taking place inside the garage of his home. On the stand Thursday, however, answering questions by defense attorney Andrew Katsock, Mumaw described pulling a gun on Gombert and punching Gombert using brass knuckles as taking place outside the garage.

Mumaw then described trying to retreat into his garage, crawling on all fours, while Gombert was on his back punching him and the two were struggling for control of Mumaw’s gun. He said he fired two shots, the first going through Gombert’s shorts and the second through his chest.

“I’m wondering if he had a gun on him,” Mumaw testified, “So I pulled him out of the garage by the legs, far enough so I could close the door.”

On cross examination, First Assistant District Attorney Mike Stine said that then Dr. Richard Bindie, who performed the autopsy, said the injuries from the brass knuckle punch would have caused profuse external bleeding. There was no blood evidence to support Mumaw’s claim that he punched Gombert outside the garage.

Blood evidence didn’t support Mumaw’s testimony about a violent physical struggle between the two men inside the garage. Inside the garage there was a puddle of blood, connected to a bloody drag mark leading outside the garage.

Stine referenced threatening text and Facebook messages Mumaw had sent: “I need someone found and brought to me for a reward” and “I will kill him.”

Mumaw said he didn’t mean those things. “Those were just words,” he testified.

Stine suggested that Mumaw changed the location of the altercation from inside the garage, to outside the garage to make his story better fit with evidence.

“At the time you were interviewed by police, you didn’t know that a piece of your finger and a piece of fingernail were found outside that first bay (of the garage),” Stine said.

Closing Argument

Defense Attorney Andrew Katsock said that Mumaw had to undergo a life or death situation, which was a tragedy for all involved.

“But this (the trial) is the event that provides closure,” Katsock said. “It’s time to move on.”

As he had during the previous seven days of testimony, Katsock drew attention to Gombert’s size, which Bindie gave as 6 feet tall, and from 280-300 pounds. He called the DNA and text message evidence given during the trial as “inconsequential” and “smoke and mirrors.” He described the witnesses called by the prosecution as “a barrage of state troopers” and noted that Mumaw was left with a permanent injury, losing the tip of the ring finger of his left hand.

Katsock referred to the Castle Doctrine. “This is clearly self-defense and his actions were justified,” Katsock said. “Anyone in their home has no duty to retreat.”

Stine termed Mumaw’s actions as “aggression followed by deception.” He pointed out that in text messages between Gombert and Mumaw, Gombert wants both to “leave the toys (guns) at home” while Mumaw says “the toys always come with me.”

Stine said both Kirstyn Sharbuno (his former girlfriend) and Eric Skorpil, Gombert’s friend, advised Gombert to stay away because they were afraid of what Mumaw might do. And Mumaw couldn’t let go of Sharbuno.

“The sun is coming up, his shift (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) is ending, and he still can’t leave her alone,” Stine said. “She sends something like a legal notice, to cease and desist, but he sends her 10 more messages.”

“Who’s the aggressor, the guy with the unloaded gun in the car, who went to police?” Stine said. “Who looks like the powder keg who’s ready to explode? Who’s the one in the bathroom 45 minutes (during his work shift), sending text messages?”

Stine also said that the person who throws the first punch, as Mumaw testified he did, can’t later claim self-defense. Regarding the Castle Doctrine, Stine said the Mumaw was in his house, garage door down, doors locked, when Gombert arrived, and Mumaw opened one of the garage doors.

Stine said that Mumaw’s version of events doesn’t make sense, including his testimony that Gombert tackled and fought with him after suffering horrific injuries from the brass knuckle punch.

“He might have been 300 pounds,” Stine said. “But he’s not Superman.”

Check tnonline.com for updates from the trial.

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