Castle Doctrine Defense: Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer Obtains Acquittal on Washington County Homicide

The Pittsburgh Criminal Law firm of FrankWalkerLaw obtained an acquittal on Homicide Charges in a widely publicized Murder Trial involving Self-Defense.

The central issue was whether a decorated Afghanistan and Iraqi veteran, Brandon Thomas, was found NOT GUILTY of First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, Third Degree Murder or Voluntary Homicide when he shot and killed Vaughn Simonelli.  To reach their verdict, the Washington County Jury had to determine whether Mr. Thomas was justified in his actions or whether his actions were protected under the Castle Doctrine Law of Pennsylvania.

Generally, to establish the defense of self-defense, or defense of others, it must be shown that a) the slayer, or the other he seeks to protect, was free from fault in provoking or continuing the difficulty which resulted in the slaying; b) that the slayer must have reasonably believed that he [or the other he seeks to protect] was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that there was a necessity to use such force in order to save himself [or the other] therefrom; and c) the slayer [or the other he seeks to protect] did not violate any duty to retreat or to avoid the danger.

If there is any evidence from whatever source that will support these three elements then the decision as to whether the claim is a valid one is left to the jury and the jury must be charged properly thereon by the trial court.

However, the case of Commonwealth v. Brandon Thomas is unique because it was the first case where the Castle Doctrine was raised as a defense in addition to the general rule of Self-Defense or Justification.

The Castle Doctrine of Pennsylvania provides that an actor is presumed to have a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat if both of the following conditions exist: The person against whom the force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered and is present within, a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle; or the person against whom the force is used is or is attempting to unlawfully and forcefully remove another against that other’s will from the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle.

In Commonwealth v. Thomas, the Defense established through witness and scientific evidence that Mr. Thomas was in his car during the time of the shooting and that the assailant, Vaughn Simonelli, was unlawfully attacking Mr. Thomas through the window of of his vehicle. Applying the law of self defense and Castle Doctrine Defense, the jury was free to presume that the Defendant’s force used against Vaughn Simonelli was lawful and accordingly found Mr. Thomas justified and acquitted him of Murder and Manslaughter charges. 

Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer Frank Walker was satisfied with the verdict and simply stated, “The jury heard the facts and found that Vaughn Simonelli attacked Mr. Thomas, Mr. Thomas retreated to his car and was attacked again by Vaughn Simonelli when he attempted to enter and attack Mr. Thomas through his car window. Mr. Thomas used whatever force was necessary to defend himself against the attack and the jury found the same.”

Attorney Frank Walker of Frank Walker Law is a National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer and Personal Injury Attorney with offices in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and Morgantown West Virginia.

If you or someone you love are facing criminal charges or seriously injured in an accident, contact Attorney Frank Walker immediately at 412-315-744124 hours a day, 7 days a week for aggressive and experienced Criminal Defense or Representation in a Civil Case.