NORRISTOWN — A Pottstown man accused of using a shotgun to fatally shoot another borough man, who prosecutors maintain was unarmed, told a detective he “had to take out the aggressor” during a disturbance in the Bright Hope development.
“As a man, I had to take out the aggressor. I shot him. I didn’t want him to harm any other family like he did mine,” Armani Cortez Rhedrick allegedly told a detective during an initial statement to authorities one day after the Sept. 23, 2019, fatal shooting of 31-year-old Otis Harris.
“Three rapid shots. I loaded only three shells and fired three times,” Rhedrick stated, according to testimony at his homicide trial.
Rhedrick’s six-page Sept. 24, 2019, statement was read to a jury on Tuesday by Montgomery County Detective John Wittenberger, who testified Rhedrick was calm, attentive and did not appear under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he voluntarily agreed to give the statement.
“The defendant told me he wanted to tell me what really happened, that it was self-defense,” Wittenberger recalled.
In his statement, Rhedrick, who was 20 years old at the time of the shooting, claimed Harris and another man whose name he did not know came to his home in the 400 block of West King Street and began assaulting him. Rhedrick claimed Harris stated, “We’re about to off you,” which Rhedrick claimed he took as a threat to kill him. Rhedrick claimed that as Harris punched him he got a glimpse of what he believed was a gun that the second man possessed.
Rhedrick claimed he went to a closet and retrieved a 12-gauge pump action shotgun, loaded it and then fired, striking Harris, as the second man fled.
In the statement, Rhedrick indicated Harris was unarmed but that he shot Harris because he feared Harris would allow the second man to harm him.
Rhedrick’s statement echoed what defense lawyer Evan T.L. Hughes has argued at trial, that Rhedrick acted in self-defense when Harris invaded the home he shared with his girlfriend and infant child and attacked him.
But Assistant District Attorney Samantha Cauffman has characterized the shooting as a “cold-blooded execution” and alleged Rhedrick committed “a premeditated, unjustifiable, intentional murder.” Cauffman and co-prosecutor Kelli McGinnis have suggested Rhedrick’s statements are self-serving and that the unarmed Harris never assaulted Rhedrick.
Rhedrick’s statement also is in opposition to what prosecution witnesses testified they observed.
Testimony revealed the investigation began about 8:27 a.m. Sept. 23 when Pottstown police responded to a report of a shooting in the unit block of Scott Street. Arriving officers found Harris on the sidewalk in front of a residence there.
“Harris sustained an apparent gunshot wound to the head and was pronounced dead at the scene,” Wittenberger and Pottstown Detective Corporal Michael Breslin wrote in the arrest affidavit, adding three fired 12-gauge shotgun shells were recovered in the area of Harris’ body.
An autopsy concluded Harris died from multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death was ruled homicide.
Prosecution witnesses testified the shooting occurred minutes after a physical altercation between Rhedrick and Harris’ nephew, Rayshawn McKay, at Rhedrick’s West King Street home. McKay testified on Monday that after the fight he returned to Harris’ Scott Street home, where he was staying, and told Harris about the altercation.
Harris, according to prosecution witnesses, then went outside and witnesses reported hearing three gunshots within minutes. Prosecutors maintain Harris was unarmed. McKay testified he was upstairs in Harris’ home when he heard the gunshots.
Rhedrick’s West King Street residence is just 150 feet away from the scene of the alleged shooting.
McKay repeatedly denied Hughes’ suggestion that he and Harris had invaded Rhedrick’s home while armed with guns and McKay maintained Harris was not present for the earlier altercation he had with Rhedrick.
Jurors appeared riveted on Tuesday as prosecutors played for the jury a recording of the 911 call that McKay placed shortly after the alleged shooting. Relatives of Harris could be heard screaming with emotion in the background during the call.
Witnesses reported observing Rhedrick carrying a rifle wrapped inside a blanket, getting into a silver Hyundai sedan and leaving the scene of the alleged shooting. During the investigation, authorities seized a 12-gauge pump action shotgun allegedly used by Rhedrick during the shooting.
County Detective Eric Nelson, a firearms expert, demonstrated for the jury how the shotgun operates. Nelson also compared the wound patterns found on Harris’ body to the patterns produced when he test fired the weapon during the investigation.
“The shotgun was less than 10-feet away from the decedent when it was fired,” Nelson opined for jurors on Tuesday.
Rhedrick, now 22, faces charges of first- and third-degree murder, possession of a firearm, possession of an instrument of crime and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.
If he’s convicted of first-degree murder, an intentional killing, Rhedrick faces life imprisonment. A conviction of third-degree murder, a killing committed with malice, carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.
The trial before Judge William R. Carpenter is expected to last about four days.
Source: Berkshire mont