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Man, 68, faces trial in slaying

Witness suggests suspect was acting in self-defense

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A witness testified yesterday that there was nothing anyone could have done to stop a 28-year-old man from pummeling a man 40 years his senior until the older man grabbed a knife and fatally wounded his attacker.

Though the testimony made it appear Charles Pharr, 68, known by friends as "Gentleman Sam," acted in self-defense, Allegheny County Deputy Coroner Timothy G. Uhrich said he was constrained by the law to order Pharr held for trial on a homicide charge.

Lynell Drozier, the only witness to testify at the coroner's inquest, said that he, Pharr, James Wilie and at least three other people were at his Perrysville Avenue home around 1 a.m. June 19, drinking cognac and gin, when Pharr and Wilie got into an argument.

Authorities do not know what started the argument.

Drozier said that he and his other friends tried to quell the dispute.

"Everybody tried to get [Wilie] off of Sam," Drozier testified. "His nephew couldn't handle him. I couldn't handle him. Nobody could handle him."

Wilie, who weighed about 220 pounds, fought off the men before focusing again on Pharr, grabbing him by the collar and hoisting him off his feet against a wall, Drozier testified.

"I backed off and [Wilie] started beating him in the face," he said.

The beating lasted for several minutes, Drozier testified, until Pharr grabbed a knife and began stabbing Wilie. Then the younger man wrested the knife away and stabbed Pharr before the older man ran from the residence, according to Drozier's testimony.

A moment later, Wilie collapsed and paramedics were called. He was pronounced dead at 2:23 a.m. in Allegheny General Hospital of a stab wound of the chest. Pharr was hospitalized with a stab wound.

"Clearly this is not a murder case," assistant public defender Kathleen Cribbins argued after testimony had ended. "Tops, this is a manslaughter case."

Assistant District Attorney George Heim argued that there was no evidence that Pharr's life was in danger to the point that he was justified in using deadly force against his attacker.

Uhrich denied Cribbins' motion to reduce the charges.

Pharr was returned to the Allegheny County Jail to await trial.

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