Erie man convicted of assault, robbery in Philipsburg incident

After about an hour of deliberation, a jury returned guilty verdicts Monday in the trial of an Erie man charged with robbery, theft and assault.

Jacob Morroni, 28, was accused of attacking a woman in Philipsburg and attempting to steal her wallet and cellphone on the afternoon of July 28, 2014, according to court documents. The woman told troopers that Morroni punched her in the face and head, threw her to the ground and dragged her by the hair to collect a debt he said she owed his sister, according to the criminal complaint.

The woman testified Monday that she omitted some information when she talked to police in July and, later, at Morroni’s preliminary hearing. She said she contacted Morroni earlier that day about buying synthetic marijuana and set up the meeting to buy some and didn’t tell anyone previously because she was afraid of getting in trouble.

Several witnesses testified they saw Morroni assault the woman, and the person who called police, a passing motorist, said Morroni fled when she yelled at him that she had made the call. He left the phone when she yelled for him to leave it. A paramedic who responded reported the woman suffered an abrasion to the right knee and a “goose egg” on the back of her head.

Morroni himself took the stand and said that the woman tried to barter her phone, which he didn’t want, for the drugs because she didn’t have any money. She grabbed him, Morroni said, and Morroni said he picked her up, threw her to the ground and hit her “three or four” times because he felt threatened when a group of four teenagers chased him.

Kathryn Urbanowicz, Morroni’s public defender, asked the jury to acquit Morroni of the robbery charges. Although Morroni admitted to hitting the woman, Urbanowicz argued it was never Morroni’s intent to steal from her or else he would have fled with the phone at the very least.

“He left empty-handed by choice,” she said.

Assistant district attorneys Nathan Boob and Adam Morris prosecuted the case. In closing statements, Boob depicted Morroni as an “enforcer” who was trying to get payment for a drug debt by any means necessary. Boob argued that Morroni’s actions after the event, like fleeing and leaving the cellphone only when one of the witnesses said she called the police and yelled for him to drop it, was indicative of someone trying to evade accountability.

Judge Pamela A. Ruest, who presided over the trial, found Morroni guilty of an additional harassment charge. Sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 23.