Despite Contradictions and Deception, Wilkinsburg Man Faces Life In Prison
By Bill Moushey and Bridget DiCosmo and Jodi Weigand
The Innocence Institute of Point Park University
After a jury forewoman rendered a first degree murder conviction against Steven Slutzker last night in a re-trial in the 1975 killing of John Mudd Sr. the man who faces life in prison for the second time cried out:
“I’m innocent, weren’t you paying attention,” before slamming his head on the defense table in front of him, causing Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning to have him removed from the courtroom after a seven-day trial in the 31-year-old case.
As Mr. Slutzker screamed at 9:01 p.m., eight members of the late Mr. Mudd’s family quietly and joyfully clutched each other, Terrence Mudd hugging his dead brother’s son John Jr., muttering “Yes!”
In the back of the courtroom, Amy Jo Musselman, who testified against her estranged father, cried. Later, she said: “I do love my dad, I do want him to know that.”
Tears streamed from the eyes of at least three members of the 10-woman, two man jury before Judge Manning dismissed them.
“Obviously, we’re very disappointed in the verdict, I can’t believe it,” said David Shrager, one of three attorneys for Mr.Slutzker.
Daniel E. Fitzsimmons, Allegheny County Chief Deputy District Attorney, said while he had not talked with jurors, his arguments asking it to listen to the “totality of the evidence in the case, and not just one piece” apparently was successful.
Juror Betty Ramseur agreed.
“We didn’t convict on any one thing, but how it all fit together,” she said of 7 hours 45 minutes of deliberations it took in case that began Dec. 28, 1975 when Mr. Mudd Sr. was peppered with six bullets in the darkened basement of his Wilkinsburg home.
As Judge Manning told the jury before dismissing it, the case was very complicated, which was apparent throughout the trial and in closing arguments yesterday.
“Steven Slutzker waited in that basement and he opened up on him [Mudd Sr.].” Mr. Fitzsimmons said, urging the panel to “…look Mr. Slutzker in the eyes and call him a cold-blooded killer.”
Mr. Shrager argued no physical evidence implicated Mr. Slutzker, eyewitness testimony was false and suggested Arlene Mudd Stewart, the dead man’s wife did it, pleading with the jury to “…end his nightmare.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons stressed the circumstantial testimony of three witnesses who said Mr. Slutzker sought to have Mr. Mudd Sr. killed because of his love for her and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband.
Mr. Slutzker abandoned those efforts before the killing and ended their relationship, leaving her to do it herself, Mr. Shrager claimed, even though he spent a year in prison on a solicitation conviction.
While it snowed heavily the night of the murder, the only footprints near Mr. Slutzker’s home were those of an adult and child that led to where his van was parked, which contributed to his alibi that he was in McKeesport, where he spent the night after passing out drunk.
Yesterday, Mr. Fitzsimmons suggested the footprints around the murder scene could have been blown away.
Both lawyers challenged the jury over alibi testimony of Janet O’Dea Fieling and her ex-husband, Patrick O’Dea, who confirmed his alibi. The prosecutor accused Mrs. Fieling of involvement in the crime, her ex-husband admitted bad health has caused his memory to fail and both said they were alcoholics at the time of the killing.
Mr. Fitzsimmons presented testimony of Mr. Slutzker’s estranged daughter, who said she watched her gun toting father leave their home, then return after she heard gunshots and saw emergency vehicles outside. Yesterday he suggested the defendant could have left his daughter with the O’Deas, then used their auto to go do the killing?
Mr. Fitzsimmons stressed eyewitness testimony of a neighbor who said she saw Mrs. Mudd being consoled by Mr. Slutzker outside her home after the murder. Mr. Shrager argued that witness repeatedly changed her story and another neighbor said he was the person who comforted the woman.
Mr. Fitzsimmons also urged the jury to accept the repressed memory testimony of John Mudd Jr., and his statement it was the first time he knew what happened to his father before Mr. Shrager pointed to the testimony of a counselor said Mr. Mudd Jr. told her in 1976 that when he grew up, he would kill Mr. Slutzker.
Jodi Weigand, a graduate assistant at the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, contributed to this report. They can be reached at 412-765-3164.