Suspect in Spring Brook Twp. shooting can stand trial for homicide

Oct. 7 – SCRANTON – Almost an hour had passed since Evan Daniel Wasko called for an attorney, ending a June interview at the Dunmore State Police barracks.

Then the 18-year-old was suspected of shooting and killing a teenager outside a Spring Brook twp. The drinker scribbled four words on a piece of paper the soldiers gave him and held it up to the room’s surveillance camera.

“Come and talk to me,” read the message shown in court on Thursday.

After a 1 1/2 hour preliminary hearing, District Judge Laura Turlip determined that Lackawanna County prosecutors had presented enough evidence for Wasko to stand trial in the death of 17-year-old Joseph Roberson. District Attorney Mark Powell said his office plans to prove first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence, in court.

“It’s a senseless murder,” he said.

Wasko’s attorney, Robert Saurman of Stroudsburg, said the shooting was “a terrible tragedy” but not a premeditated homicide. Intent is the key to proving first-degree murder.

“There’s no reason — no animosity, no history,” Saurman said between Wasko and Roberson.

He added that the Wasko family feels sadness for Roberson’s family.

State police charged Wasko, 1046 Pear St., Apt. 5D, facing criminal murder and other charges on June 23, charging him with the fatal shooting of Roberson outside 71 Bowens Road around midnight on June 18.

Soldiers said Wasko and three others, including co-defendant Liam Patrick O’Malley, drove towards the residence to confront a partygoer. Rather than finding this person, Roberson and O’Malley fought over a pepperball gun, which O’Malley pointed at him. Wasko shot Roberson in the head, authorities said.

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A .32 caliber cartridge was recovered from the teenager’s head during an autopsy, coroner Tim Rowland testified under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Brian Gallagher. Rowland ruled the death a murder.

Trooper Ryan Kearney testified that the markings on the projectile matched those on rounds fired from the suspected murder weapon. The gun was loaded with .32 caliber cartridges that matched a spent cartridge that investigators found on the bloody Bowens Road pavement.

O’Malley, also 18, 2616 N. Main Ave., is awaiting trial after last month waiving his right to a preliminary hearing on charges including terrorist threats and firearms charges.

Partygoers told state police a Chrysler pulled up just before the shooting. A participant knew the driver and identified him, investigators said. State police said Wasko, O’Malley and two cooperating witnesses occupied the vehicle.

State police identified the Chrysler’s owner and searched the vehicle. Inside, a receipt for several bottles of alcohol purchased at 10 p.m. on June 17 pointed investigators to the Fine Wine & Good Spirits store on Meadow Avenue.

That led investigators to O’Malley, who admitted he was in the store but passed out from drinking that night. He only remembered waking up in a hotel room in Dunmore that Kearney testified he suspected was the Sleep Inn & Suites.

Surveillance footage from the hotel showed Wasko was part of the group exiting the hotel at the Chrysler around 11:30 p.m. on the night of the murder. They planned to beat up a party-goer, state police learned. O’Malley snatched a silver-and-black .32 caliber pistol he was known to carry, but Wasko took it, claiming that O’Malley was drunk and Wasko was not.

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Others who were in the Chrysler told investigators Wasko shot Roberson, Soldier Gregory Allen testified.

When Wasko sat for his interview, the investigator presented this information, but Wasko denied involvement and asked for an attorney.

That ended the interview, Allen testified, but Wasko was given a piece of paper and a pen to write down any questions or concerns, Allen testified. Under cross-examination by Saurman, Allen said Wasko was given no information on how to get a lawyer and did not make a phone call.

Wasko sat for about 45 minutes before writing on the paper that he needed to go to the bathroom. Not long after, he wrote on the note that he was ready to speak. State police read him his rights again, and Wasko admitted he fired the fatal shot, “but he didn’t mean it,” Allen testified.

The exchange could come under scrutiny as the case nears trial, said Attorney Al Flora, the former chief defense attorney for Luzerne County. Flora is not involved in the case.

Once Wasko invoked his right to legal counsel, everything should have stopped, Flora said.

“The way I see it, it’s a trick,” Flora said of the tactic of leaving Wasko with stationery.

Saurman said they would study “every avenue” of the defense.

“We’re going to get the discovery, I’m going to look at it very carefully and review the existing laws very carefully,” he said.

Powell said Allen followed proper protocol.

Wasko eventually told state police the gun was buried near Lake Scranton. Surveillance footage collected by Ace Hardware on North Keyser Avenue showed O’Malley, Wasko and an unidentified third person buying shovels about 14 hours after the shooting.

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With O’Malley’s guidance and later the use of a metal detector, investigators found the gun buried under 6 inches of dirt in a wooded area off State Route 307, wrapped in white cloth. A rock marked the spot.

Wasko is scheduled to appear in Common Pleas Court next month.

Wasko and O’Malley remain incarcerated at the Lackawanna County Jail. Wasko is denied bail. O’Malley is being held on $250,000 bail.

Contact the author: [email protected], 570-348-9100, x5187; @jkohutTT on Twitter.

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