An Altoona man accused of firing a shotgun at a couple as they fled from his home will stand trial on attempted homicide and related charges.
Dressed in a Blair County Prison orange jumpsuit, James Dennis Petty, 56, of 520 Crawford Ave., appeared before Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker on Wednesday flanked by his attorney, Thomas Dickey, who argued Petty was within his rights to retrieve the shotgun the night of March 1 during a fight with a friend.
Dickey argued that although Petty told police the gun went off accidentally, the state's Castle Doctrine applies to Petty even if he did fire the 12-gauge shotgun on purpose. Petty was attacked in his own home, Dickey said.
Assistant Blair County District Attorney Russell Montgomery disagreed and pointed out Petty's friend, who was staying with Petty at the time, was on his way out of the house with his girlfriend when Petty retrieved the gun.
"The Castle Doctrine doesn't apply to someone who is fleeing your home," said Montgomery.
The alleged victim testified he had been drinking at a nearby bar that day, a Saturday, when he returned to Petty's home at about 8 p.m. to find one of his dogs running loose. When he asked Petty about why his dog was loose, an argument ensued, and the two ended up wrestling on the living room floor.
"He said, 'I'm gonna get my gun' when we were leaving," the alleged victim told the court Petty said after the pair were separated, adding he was just stepping out the door and onto the front steps of the house when the shotgun fired.
Dickey pounced on an inconsistency in the man's testimony, pointing out that on the stand, the alleged victim at first said he wasn't hit by the blast, but a moment later conceded he felt "stuff" hit the back of his head.
"Jimmy's my friend. I don't want him to go to jail," the man explained as to why he initially denied feeling the shotgun blast.
A neighbor who lives across the street testified his fence, house and garage were hit by the shotgun blast, and Altoona police Detective Sgt. Matthew Starr testified the shot left a large hole in Petty's front door just above the peephole.
A friend of Petty's who was in the house told police the alleged victim had Petty on his back, something Dickey said after the hearing was paramount to his client's defense. "Clearly, the facts shows my client was acting in self-defense," Dickey said. Dickey said the alleged victim was in no hurry to leave the house, and his client was in fear of what he would do because he had been attacked already in his own living room. Petty was well within his rights to retrieve the gun, Dickey added.
"One second earlier and he wasn't quite out the door so far, it would be a homicide," Montgomery said.
Montgomery said there was enough evidence, including Petty's statement that he was going to get his gun and shoot the couple, to send the case on to Blair County Court for a trial.
Auker agreed, although he did dismiss one drug paraphernalia possession charge because there was no testimony or evidence presented to show a homemade pipe found at the house had been used to smoke marijuana.
Petty was remanded back to jail Wednesday after Auker refused to hold another bail modification hearing. Last week, Auker reduced Petty's bail from $100,000 cash to 10 percent of $100,000, a change he said Wednesday was more than fair under the circumstances.