State College man guilty of assaulting woman

The non-jury trial of a teenager accused of assaulting a woman in downtown State College last year ended with guilty verdicts on all charges Wednesday.

Clinton County Senior Judge J. Michael Williamson found Gabriel Shull, 18, of State College, guilty of one count each of robbery, unlawful restraint, simple assault, drug paraphernalia and weapons possession.

State College police arrested Shull after officers parked on West College Avenue in a patrol car heard a “blood curdling scream” coming from South Burrowes Street in the early morning hours of Oct. 13. They responded and observed a man running from the scene. The officers followed him in the car to New Alley, where they reported that he jumped in a vehicle occupied by another man.

Officers found an unloaded BB gun that looked like an actual handgun in the car, and received a call shortly afterward about a woman who reported she was assaulted by a man with a gun at the intersection of South Burrowes and Calder Way. The woman was brought to the scene and identified Shull as the person who assaulted her.

During the trial, Williamson heard testimony from the man who was with Shull during and prior to the arrest, the police officers and finally, the 23-year-old woman.

The passenger in the car, Paul Sepich, said that he and Shull met earlier that night to drive around and smoke marijuana. Sepich said that they stopped at the North Atherton Street Wal-Mart and a Sheetz before ending up at the Benner Pike Wal-Mart.

While there, Sepich said he and Shull looked at some airsoft and BB guns. Sepich said he witnessed Shull trying to steal one of the guns and he walked away to distance himself.

When they got back in the car, he saw that Shull had the BB gun.

They drove around some more before ending up in New Alley, when Shull left the car without offering a reason for leaving. Sepich said he stayed in the vehicle and Shull eventually came running back with police in pursuit.

Sean McGraw, Shull’s attorney, questioned Sepich’s role in the night’s events, and probed possible bias in Sepich’s testimony. He pointed to several pending charges against Sepich as reasons he might testify against Shull.

Sepich told the court he did not receive any promises from the District Attorney’s Office for his testimony. Sepich was not charged in the incident involving Shull.

The woman testified that she encountered Shull as she was walking home along Calder Way. Shull approached her and asked her if she knew where the closest gas station was, and she gave him directions. She said Shull then asked her for money and she said no.

When she tried to get past him, she said he repeatedly blocked her way. She said she eventually shoved Shull and he grabbed her purse and arm. Eventually, she said she was thrown to the ground and Shull grabbed her by the hair and dragged her across the street.

It was after she was on the ground that she noticed the gun and began screaming for help, she said. Shull ran when the police drove down the road, she said, and she returned home and called 911.

Before the trial began, McGraw brought up some issues for the record that he felt were causes of concern given the “context” of the case. He had only gotten some information, like the 911 tape, the day before the trial. Had he gotten the material earlier, he may have chosen to pursue a jury trial for Shull, he said.

He also remarked that this was only the second first-time offender who didn’t receive a plea agreement in his 17-year career, the other one being a homicide.

Williamson asked Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller why the tape wasn’t turned over before, adding that the timing seemed “a little sloppy.”

Parks Miller said prosecutors didn’t get the tape until the day before and said McGraw hadn’t “indicated a willingness” for Shull to plead guilty to anything, adding that her office sometimes doesn’t extend plea agreements for serious cases.

Parks Miller declined to comment on McGraw’s statements during the trial, but instead pointed to a remark Williamson made during the proceedings.

“I think you’re airing out other concerns you have with the district attorney,” Williamson said to McGraw. “I’m spending an awful lot of time on this case for reasons that aren’t appropriate to this case.”

Shull’s was one of two cases that McGraw sought to disqualify Parks Miller from prosecuting earlier this year, claiming a conflict of interest after Parks Miller named McGraw as a co-defendant in a lawsuit against the county regarding the release of communication records in response to Right-to-Know requests.

Williamson denied the request after a hearing on the matter in April.

A trial in the other case, that of Justin Blake, is scheduled for July 22. Blake is charged with rape, indecent assault and other charges stemming from an incident on State Patty’s Day weekend in 2014.

Another attorney who has been at odds with Parks Miller, Philip Masorti, also sought to disqualify Parks Miller from hearing all of his cases. That motion has been withdrawn, according to court documents online, but the specifics are unknown because the docket is sealed.

As for Shull, McGraw said after the trial that he plans to appeal the conviction to the state Superior Court after Shull is sentenced and declined to comment further. A sentencing date is to be determined.

“We’re pleased by the outcome and not surprised,” Parks Miller said of the conviction. “We had a strong case and it was a serious crime.”