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Pa. Sheriff Not Guilty of Threatening Website Operator

BEAVER, Pa. -- A jury has ruled Beaver County Sheriff George David is not guilty of threatening a local website operator and intimidating a deputy who witnessed the alleged encounter two years ago.

The jury of five men and seven women announced its verdict about 5:15 p.m., after deliberating less than an hour. This was the fifth day of his trial.

David was charged with threatening John Paul Vranesevich, operator of the Beaver Countian website, with a gun during an April 2012 encounter in David's office at the Beaver County Courthouse.

Following the verdict, David hugged his supporters, and his wife, Linda, cried. He told the media, "It shows you how far a lie can go, two-and-a-half years with a bunch of lies."

Defense attorney Lee Rothman said they were "elated" and "happy the sheriff will be back Monday protecting the citizens of Beaver County.

"This is a young man who made the allegations up to boost his popularity," Rothman said. "People of this county should beware of Mr. John Paul Vranesevich and be wary of what they say to him."

Vranesevich was not in court when the verdict was returned. He did not return a call The Times left seeking comment, but released on a statement on his site in which he said, "While I am obviously disappointed with today's jury verdict, I respect their decision in this matter."

"He created this story," Rothman told the jury Friday afternoon. He said Vranesevich was upset that David couldn't help his domestic partner with a situation where he was facing termination from his job as a police officer in Ambridge.

Rothman, as he did earlier in the trial, called Vranesevich a "gadfly" who provoked his client to anger and then lied about David threatening him.

"John Paul Vranesevich is a person who wanted to be significant. He wants to be significant, and he accomplished that by blaming my client for the grievous act he didn't do," Rothman said.

"John Paul took bits and pieces and put the bits and pieces together to benefit his website and to take down someone he wasn't happy with," Rothman said.

Rothman said since that day in April 2012, Vranesevich has earned more money from advertising on his website.

"He utilized this story to catapult himself and his notoriety in Beaver County," Rothman said. "Mr. Vranesevich thinks he can do whatever he wants ... The rules don't apply to him ... He doesn't think the rules of society, of professionalism, of ethical professionalism, apply to him."

Rothman called Vranesevich's version of events "absurd."

Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter told jury members at the start of the trial and again Friday to keep their eyes on the ball. She said the defense "threw a bunch of balls in the air" and hoped they would focus on those balls instead of what happened in David's office on April 16, 2012.

Brandstetter said David was angry that Vranesevich was going to write an article that would be critical of his office.

"That meeting was a show of force," Brandstetter said, adding that David was showing Vranesevich, "When I get mad, this is what I look like, this is what I sound like, this is what I do. If you write this article, this is what you're going to get.

"He has been corrupted by power," she said.

Sgt. Michael Tibolet, one of two deputies in the room during the meeting between David and Vranesevich, testified that when he talked to David afterward about comments David made, he was told not to talk about it again. Tibolet said he lied to investigators because he was afraid he would lose his job.

Brandstetter said Tibolet knew that David's comments meant never to talk about it again, and he knew it could mean losing his job.

David, 67, of Hopewell Township faced misdemeanor charges of simple assault, making terroristic threats and two counts of intimidation of a witness or victim. A charge of reckless endangerment was dismissed by the judge Wednesday because he said prosecutors had not proved the gun was loaded.

Copyright 2014 - Beaver County Times, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service