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Baumhammers calm at arrest, police officer testifies

Wednesday, May 02, 2001

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When Ambridge Patrolman James Mann came face to face with the man suspected of shooting six people during a 90-minute rampage last April, the officer was somewhat taken aback.

"He wasn't driving erratically. He was just like any other citizen driving down the street. If you'd have seen him, he was like any other person going about his business," Mann testified yesterday during the trial of Richard S. Baumhammers. "Who would've thought that somebody who murdered five people would be wearing a seat belt?"

Mann was among several officers who pulled Baumhammers over as he entered Ambridge after killing and maiming people through two counties. Mann knew what he was looking for -- a large, well-dressed white man with a goatee, carrying a briefcase and driving a nice looking black Jeep Grand Cherokee.

"When I pulled in front of him, he had like a smirk on his face, almost like he was happy. Very calm, well groomed, very neat," Mann said. "To be truthful, I thought we had the wrong guy."

And when officers found Baumhammers' law license as they searched his wallet and other belongings, Mann said his thought was, "This guy's a lawyer. I thought we were going to be sued."

Mann said the Richard Baumhammers he saw in court yesterday seemed quite different from the one he saw on April 28, 2000.

Baumhammers, 35, the suspended Mt. Lebanon immigration lawyer on trial for killing five racial and ethnic minorities and wounding a sixth, has seemed as though his mind is elsewhere during four days of testimony, prosecution witnesses have said.

"He doesn't look nothing today like he did that day," Mann testified, remarking on Baumhammers' stoic, somewhat spaced-out demeanor in court.

Last year, Mann said, he cautiously approached Baumhammers' Jeep with his pistol drawn, several times ordering Baumhammers to turn off his engine, get his hands up and keep them there.

Baumhammers at one point dropped his hands and leaned to his left. Mann thought his suspect was reaching for a weapon and rushed up to the Jeep, ordering him to put his hands back in the air.

"He looked back over his shoulder and said, 'I have to unhook my seat belt,' " Mann said.

Police confiscated Baumhammers' .357-caliber Magnum revolver, which was fully loaded with seven live rounds. A spent shell was on his car seat and 13 rounds were found in his pants pocket, along with a box of bullets on the floor behind the driver's seat. Other spent shells and a live round were found in Baumhammers' briefcase.

The bullets were hydroshock slugs with a hollow point but with a small post in the center. Robert Levine, a criminalist with the Allegheny County coroner's office division of laboratories' forensic science section, said that type of ammunition causes maximum damage to a target.

Police also found the gun, its grip protruding from Baumhammers' open briefcase on the front passenger seat.

Three Molotov cocktails, crude gasoline bombs, were found in a knapsack on the rear floor along with a can of red spray paint.

In later testimony, a Mayview State Hospital patient described his encounters with Baumhammers at the Beaver County Jail just after Baumhammers' arrest. Bobby Joe Eakles, 45, was in the jail under a suicide watch when Baumhammers was placed in an adjoining cell.

The two couldn't see each other but they could converse, and Eakles said that shortly after Baumhammers was settled, he asked how he was doing.

"He said, 'I feel great'" and said he had just shot a black man, using a racial slur to describe his victim, according to Eakles, who for years has been treated for mental illness.

Eakles testified that throughout the weekend, Baumhammers repeatedly uttered racial slurs directed at blacks and Jews and he boasted about his familial connections.

He said that Baumhammers would act polite and cooperative when others were around but that, out of earshot of guards or nurses, would spew vitriol, sometimes mumbling to himself.

"When the guards were there, he'd be totally respectful. You'd think he was the preacher's son," Eakles said.

Eakles testified that Baumhammers said to him, "Do you think with the money in my family, I'll go to jail?"

Defense Attorney William H. Difenderfer, who questioned Eakles' competency to testify, tried to show on cross-examination that Eakles' testimony was based on accounts about Baumhammers that he had read in the newspaper.

He also focused on the fact that Eakles admittedly attacked Baumhammers after they exchanged words, suggesting to the jury that Eakles' testimony was motivated by his dislike of Baumhammers.

Eakles himself testified that during the argument and subsequent scuffle, he told Baumhammers, "Let me tell you something. You pretend to be crazy. I'm crazy. I will hurt you. You don't threaten me.'"

Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Edward J. Borkowski won an argument to present still more evidence against Baumhammers when Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning ruled that taped telephone conversations from the Allegheny County Jail between the defendant and his parents would be admissible.

Excerpts from the recordings may be played for the jury.

In one March 2 recording, the Baumhammers family could be heard arguing about Richard Baumhammers' plight. His mother, Inese, told him, "You're going to make me sick. You're stupid!"

On another entry, Andrejs Baumhammers, Richard's father, said, "Remember, this is being recorded," and, "It's a recorded line."

Baumhammers' voice is heard responding, "Yes, you're right. This is a recorded line."

When testimony resumes today, Vivianne LeGerrec, a cafe owner from Paris, is expected to testify about a run-in she had with Baumhammers during one of his frequent trips abroad.

LeGerrec has said that Baumhammers punched her because he thought she was Jewish.

Staff Writer Johnna A. Pro contributed to this report.

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