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A 17-year-old was forced to defend his sickly father as he was beaten, and will not be charged in the Dec. 18 shooting death of 21-year-old Joshua John Miner.
Fayette County District Attorney Nancy D. Vernon ruled on Monday that there was no evidence of foul play in Miner’s death at the Washington Street, North Uniontown home of Jerome Zuzak.
The teen, whom Vernon would only identify as Zuzak’s son, fired the fatal shot as Miner was beating the elder Zuzak in the hallway of the family’s trailer around 3:50 a.m.
“The father and the youth both perceived that the father was in fear of death from the beating,” Vernon said.
She described the elder Zuzak as a “very weak, very passive” man who suffers from colon cancer and “wears a permanent colostomy bag.”
Zuzak had lumps on his head from the beating and started to lose consciousness, Vernon said.
The fight stemmed from the purchase of $10 in beer, Vernon said, and continued when Miner wanted Zuzak’s two children, 15 and 17, to ride in a vehicle with him. Vernon said Miner, who lived with the family for approximately two months, was intoxicated.
A verbal fight broke out and Zuzak asked Miner to leave after he threatened to kill Zuzak and his 17-year-old son. Zuzak called police to report those threats, but Miner left before they arrived. The family put Miner’s belongings in bags and put them on their front porch, Vernon said.
Miner returned a short time later to ask for his prescription medication.
Vernon said that Zuzak put the medicine and some other belongings in a bag to pass out a window to Miner, but doing so seemed to further anger Miner.
Vernon said the state police investigation shows that Miner started beating on the window and then kicked in the door to the home, all of which she said was captured when Zuzak again called 911.
Miner then started to hit Zuzak in the head and the face in the hallway of the trailer, but Vernon said that portion was not on the tape because the call was disconnected.
Afraid from the earlier threats Miner made, Zuzak had put his fianc?e’s 9mm handgun in the back of his pants waistband, Vernon said.
When Miner came back into the home, “(Zuzak) was afraid Miner would get it, and they’d all be dead,” she said.
So he instructed his 17-year-old son to get the gun as Miner continued to hit him in the stomach, she said.
“The dad pleaded and begged the son to do something,” Vernon said.
The 17-year-old yelled for Miner to stop, Vernon said. Then, from three to eight feet away, a distance determined by a forensic pathologist based on gunpowder marks, the 17-year-old fired, hitting Miner in the right arm. The bullet also hit his heart.
Vernon said the use of deadly force is justified in this case because Miner was asked to leave the Zuzak home and returned to assault Zuzak.
“You are permitted in your home (to use deadly force). You do not have to retreat,” she said.
“When he busted through the door, he became an intruder, and when he started using what the son thought was deadly force, he was permitted to return it.”
Vernon said on the 911 tape made when Miner returned to the Zuzak home, she could hear Miner in the background screaming and threatening the family. She said Zuzak called 911 after the fatal shot was fired, as the family hid in the bathroom.
In the call, Vernon said it’s obvious that Zuzak was hurt during the physical altercation, because his speech sounded “slurred.”
She said she could also hear the 17-year-old crying in the background, and noted both he and his father threw up after the shooting.
Vernon said a toxicology report determined that Miner was under the influence of alcohol, but said the degree of his intoxication was not yet available. A prescribed anti-depressant was also in Miner’s blood stream, she said.
Police did not perform toxicology tests on the 17-year-old, Vernon said, noting he was “immediately interviewed and showed now signs of drug or alcohol intoxication.”
In addition to Miner, Zuzak and his 17-year-old son, Vernon said Zuzak’s 15-year-old son and an 18-year-old friend were also in the house. Both of the other teens hid in the 15-year-old’s room during the altercation because they were afraid, Vernon said.
“It’s been a traumatic experience for everybody,” she said.
Zuzak, Vernon said, indicated that Miner’s behavior that night was “uncharacteristic” of him.
Miner’s sister, Chrystie Staycer, said Monday evening that the family did not wish to comment on Vernon’s ruling. Earlier however, Staycer told the Herald-Standard that she and her family were concerned that police would not thoroughly investigate Miner’s death.
Vernon said she personally informed Miner’s family of her decision.
“They’re not happy, but we explained to them that we don’t have any evidence to suggest that it wasn’t the way he (the 17-year-old) said.”
Vernon said coroner Dr. Phillip E. Reilly indicated to her he likely would not hold an inquest into Miner’s death.