Trial for Tamaqua man accused in shooting begins
Charles D. Heffelfinger Jr. calmly admitted to police that he had shot Gary Reidel during an argument over a ride home from a bar, Tamaqua police officer Michael J. Hobbs testified in the first day of Heffelfinger’s trial on attempted first-degree murder and related charges.
The trial, before Schuylkill County President Judge William E. Baldwin, resumed this morning.
Heffelfinger, 24, of Hazle Street, Tamaqua, remains free on $75,000 cash bail.
Police say he shot Reidel, then 36, at about 1:50 a.m. Feb. 12, 2017 while the two argued on Orwigsburg Street, where Heffelfinger lived with his parents.
The argument stemmed from a disagreement between Heffelfinger and Reidel, who, with a friend, had brought Heffelfinger’s father home from a neighborhood bar after he was asked to leave because he was extremely intoxicated.
Heffelfinger Jr. was also asked to leave because he was intoxicated, according to testimony.
Reidel testified he had had several beers.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Nathan L. Boob in his opening statement told jurors that “when you decide to pull the trigger on another human being, you have no intention but to kill that person.”
He cautioned jurors that any argument by the defense to portray the shooting as self-defense would be a “smoke-screen.”
Public Defender Kent D. Watkins in his opening statement questioned the argument of intent, suggesting the gun went off after the two men struggled.
The prosecution presented its case Wednesday.
Boob called to testify Reidel; Reidel’s wife Melissa Reidel; the Reidels’ friend; Troy Meckes of Tamaqua, who was with them that night; and Tamaqua police officers Hobbs and Thomas C. Rodgers.
Hobbs, who arrived at the scene at the same time as Rodgers, testified that he saw Heffelfinger Jr. on his front porch after the shooting, clad only in boxer shorts.
“Did you shoot him?” Hobbs asked.
“Yes, I did,” Heffelfinger replied.
Hobbs handcuffed him and placed him in the cruiser. Heffelfinger Jr. told him the gun, for which he had a permit, was in the house.
Rodgers testified that Heffelfinger Jr. in a brief interview changed his story three times, including changing from shooting Reidel in the stomach to shooting into the air, and from not being hit to Reidel punching him in the face side of the head and back of the head.
Rodgers said he could find no bruises or other injuries.
Heffelfinger also told Rodgers that after the two scuffled and the gun was on the ground, he did a “tuck and roll” to retrieve it.
Rodgers testified Heffelfinger’s clothes were not wet or dirty despite the wet, messy winter street.
Heffelfinger had gone inside the house and taken off his clothes except for a pair of boxer shorts. The clothes were on the kitchen floor. The 9 mm Smith & Wesson pistol was on the kitchen table, along with seven bullets, the 15-round magazine, the holster, and the contents of Heffelfinger’s pockets.
At the police station, Heffelfinger signed a Miranda warning and wrote a statement after telling Rodgers what had happened.
In a holding cell, he tore the up the statement and flushed it down the toilet, telling Rodgers he had “made mistakes” in it.
Rodgers said he found two shell casings in the driveway; one bullet was found in the tire of a vehicle parked across the street.
Reidel testified he and his wife had come from Girardville to go out with their friends, Troy and Lisa Meckes, who also live on Orwigsburg Street.
At about 9 p.m., the four went to the Pine Street Pub, about three-quarters of a mile from the Meckes’ home. There, Reidel said, they drank beer, played pool and darts and listened to music.
Meckes introduced them to his neighbors, Heffelfinger and Heffelfinger’s father, Charles Sr.
Everyone was having a good time, he said. He said he drank several beers. At about 1:40 a.m., Heffelfinger Sr. was asked to leave the bar because he was extremely intoxicated. Meckes asked Reidel to help get him into Meckes’ car to drive him home.
As they drove, they passed Heffelfinger Jr., who was walking home.
As they were helping Heffelfinger Sr. out of the car, Heffelfinger Jr. approached, and “became combative,” Reidel said.
“He came up the street irate and demanding to know why” they hadn’t given him a ride home, too, he said.
He said Heffelfinger Jr. was drunk. The two argued, with Reidel telling him several times to “shut up and go into your house.”
The argument kept on for several minutes, Reidel said. The two were physically close to each other, but neither man touched the other.
Finally, Reidel told Heffelfinger Jr., “the next time I turn around, I’m going to physically put you in your house.”
Reidel said he took off his shirt, sure there “would be a fistfight.”
“I turned around, and there’s a gun,” he said.
He screamed “Troy! Gun!” and turned to get away.
“The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, telling someone to call 911,” Reidel said.
He testified he didn’t recall swatting the gun out of Heffelfinger Jr.’s hand, or struggling with him.
One bullet hit him in the left side and exited through his lower back. He was taken to a hospital, where he spent about eight hours in the emergency room before being discharged.
At Boob’s request, he showed the jury his scars.
“I was in the process of getting away from him when he shot me,” Reidel told the jury.
He also said he sought counseling, but still has trouble.
He said when he looks at pictures of his children, he’s shaken by “how quick” because of an “argument with a stupid drunk I almost lost my life.”
“You don’t expect that (expletive) to happen in a small town like Tamaqua,” Reidel said.
Under cross-examination by Watkins, Reidel admitted to having used methamphetamine the day before the incident.
Watkins questioned him at length about struggling with Heffelfinger Jr. and the gun being on the ground before Heffelfinger Jr. picked it up.
Reidel said he didn’t remember anything about a struggle.
He said he did remember Heffelfinger Jr.’s mother coming out of the house and saying, “I knew this was going to happen, one day he was going to shoot someone when he was drunk.”
Watkins remarked that Reidel appeared to have a good memory for some things but not others.
Meckes’ testimony was similar to Reidel’s.
“I heard Gary yell, ‘Troy! He pulled an (expletive) gun!’ and that quick he shot him,” Meckes said.
There were two shots, close together, he said. He said he saw the muzzle flashes level with Reidel.
Meckes also testified that Reidel and Heffelfinger Jr. wrestled on the ground after Heffelfinger pulled the gun but before he fired.
It was as Reidel turned to get away that Heffelfinger Jr. fired, Meckes said.
He also said Heffelfinger Sr. tried to intervene.
Melissa Reidel described the events at the bar, where she and Lisa Meckes stayed when their husbands took Heffelfinger Sr. home.
Heffelfinger Jr. had been asked to leave earlier, she said.
They were gone unusually long, she said.
Then, she got a phone call from her husband.
“I love you, and please tell the kids I love them,” he said.
He told her he had been shot.
Melissa said she and Lisa ran the 13 blocks to Orwigsburg Street, where they saw Reidel on the ground, Heffelfinger Sr.’s wife, Yvonne, holding a towel to his back to stanch the bleeding.