Online Exclusive

Website Operator Testifies Pa. Sheriff Threatened Him

BEAVER, Pa. -- Defense attorney Lee Rothman laid two nearly foot-long stacks of articles in front of the first witness Monday.

Pointing to the stories that John Paul Vranesevich had written on the Beaver County sheriff's office, he asked the operator of the Beaver Countian website if he was obsessed.

Vranesevich testified at length on direct examination that he was threatened two years ago by Sheriff George David and was in fear of his life. Vranesevich said he was looking into an issue regarding department uniform contracts.

David, 67, of Hopewell Township, is facing charges including making terroristic threats, reckless endangerment and intimidation of a witness or victim.

Rothman asked Vranesevich whether he had written but a handful stories about the sheriff's department prior to the day in question, and whether any of the stories had been negative.

Vranesevich said he had written "more than a handful" of stories, but acknowledged that, with the exception of an election story, most had not been negative.

"Do you know what the term 'gadfly' is?" Rothman asked, referring to the term for a person who annoys by persistent criticism. He then asked Vranesevich whether he would consider his coverage of government and politics as gadfly.

Vranesevich said he wouldn't consider his coverage in that light because the word has a negative connotation and conveys a sense of obsession that doesn't adequately describe what he does.

Rothman then produced copies of every story Vranesevich has written since the date of the incident, a stack about 12 inches high, and asked, "You wouldn't characterize this as an obsession?"

Vranesevich said he would not.

"Just accurate reporting?" Rothman asked.

"Yes," Vranesevich responded.

Vranesevich explained that he went to the sheriff's office April 16, 2012, for the uniform request forms and was told David wanted to see him. He became emotional as he described how David went on an "illogical" rant about Prothonotary Nancy Werme and Beaver County Times reporter J.D. Prose.

Vranesevich said they initially just talked at the beginning of the meeting.

"The dialogue ceased, and he just screamed, and he just screamed, and he just screamed," Vranesevich said, adding that David told him repeatedly, "I don't need you on my ass."

He also testified the sheriff said, "You start writing (expletive) like this, and I'm gonna beat you to a pulp."

At one point, Vranesevich said, David produced his service weapon, pointing it at him and said if he knew he was going to die he would shoot Werme and Prose and then said, "I'll blow your brains out, too."

"I really thought he was going to pull that trigger," Vranesevich said.

He said the encounter lasted more than two hours, and there were two deputies present in the office who did nothing.

Vranesevich said when he was able to leave, he attempted to call county detectives, local police, Werme and Prose. "I just wanted everyone to be safe," he said.

Pennsylvania Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter told the jury during opening statements that David used his power in an attempt to silence the media and those who would testify against him.

The prosecution is attempting to build a case of David abusing his power.

"The questions before you, I don't want to say they're simple, but they're clear," Brandstetter said. She said the jury will have to decide whether David intended to terrorize Vranesevich, whether he endangered him by waving a firearm and whether he used his authority to intimidate a witness.

Rothman is building his own case involving power, but his focus is on someone else.

"This case is about power," Rothman said. "The power of a woman named Nancy Werme."

Rothman told the jury Werme was angry with David after the November 2011 election because she felt David and his wife, Linda, had not done enough to help her with her election bid, and a longstanding friendship ended to be replaced with hatred.

Rothman asserted Vranesevich had an agenda the day he went to David's office, and his version of events is "fantastical, bizarre" and not logical.

Vranesevich will retake the stand Tuesday morning.

Copyright 2014 - Beaver County Times, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service