Nicole Smalley was confidently describing a series of photos depicting the Smalley residence to a jury on Tuesday until she saw a photo of her father dead on the floor, moments after he’d been shot twice.
The Baltimore-based social worker who grew up in State College, went to State College Area High School and graduated from Penn State couldn’t help but cry.
She was the first to testify in her father’s murder trial.
Ardell Matthew Gross, a 37-year-old from Pleasant Gap, allegedly shot and killed his 60-year-old uncle — Nicole’s father — Richard “Rick” Smalley at 227 Whitman Ave. on Oct. 27, 2017.
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Spring Township police said Gross and Smalley were arguing about the death of 86-year-old Army corporal veteran Richard “Dick” Smalley — who died the day before the alleged murder — and the estate he left behind.
Dick was Gross’ grandfather, Rick’s father and owned the house where his son died and where Gross lived for 10 years.
In his opening statement, District Attorney Bernie Cantorna showed the jury a .357 bullet, photos of Rick Smalley lying in the home and on the autopsy table and described the two shots fired by Gross.
The first shot hit Smalley in the left forearm and traveled through his chest, while the second shot was “right between the eyes.”
“Bullets don’t kill people. People kill people,” Cantorna said. “Bullets do talk, though. They tell a story.”
Cantorna then narrated the story of what happened between Gross and Smalley during the 7 minutes, 13 seconds Smalley spent on the front porch.
Cantorna said Smalley called his daughter Nicole, told her Gross had been drinking and was going to have a beer with him before returning to his home.
“That was the last thing he said to his daughter,” Cantorna said.
When Smalley entered the home, Gross grabbed the gun from his bedroom and fired the two shots from about four feet away, according to a ballistics report.
“As Rick Smalley enters the hallway of his childhood home, he gets shot by his nephew and wouldn’t have seen it coming,” Cantorna said.
Chief Public Defender David Crowley said there was “no way in the world” to know whether Smalley would have seen the first shot coming because he argued Smalley’s arm was “coming around at Matt.”
Crowley then urged the jury to analyze the differences between Gross’ 911 call just minutes after the shooting and the subsequent interviews with police, which he said are “goal-oriented.”
“Listen to Matt in that 911 tape. Hear the fear. You’ll hear the anguish,” Crowley said. “When you’re in your own home ... and someone attacks you, you’re justified in stopping him. Matt was attacked in his own home.”
Former Spring Township police detective Dale Moore also testified about his roughly 20 minute interview with Gross on the front porch after the shooting — when Gross was initially believed to be a “victim.”
“I believed he was drinking. I wouldn’t ride in the car with him, but he was answering questions in the right context,” Moore testified. “I wasn’t overly concerned with his alcohol use.”
Gross is charged with first-degree murder, third-degree murder and aggravated assault. The final day of the trial is scheduled for Dec. 4.