Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Man gets 17 to 40 years for murder

- By Paula Reed Ward

Don Owens stood before the court broken.

A large, broad man, he struggled, at first, to convey the pain he has felt since April 24, 2015, when his 30-year-old son was shot and killed on the North Side.

“I’m, like, lost for words, hurting about my baby that I’ll never see him again,” he said.

Mr. Owens told the court Tuesday that he has 28 grandchild­ren —16 boys and 12 girls.

“I don’t want my grandkids to grow up angry like I am,” Mr. Owens said.

He told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Philip A. Ignelzi that the defendant’s father had been one of his best friends.

“His family, I loved with all of my heart growing up,” he said. “I definitely want justice for my son, but when I think about his dad ... my prayers are with him. I’ve got to forgive him, or God won’t forgive me.”

Judge Ignelzi, after listening to five of Derrick Owens’ loved ones speak, ordered Rashawn Austin, 28, to serve 17 to 40 years in prison for killing him.

The judge found Austin, of Bellevue, guilty in January of third-degree murder for fatally shooting Derrick Owens, of Pittsburgh’s Manchester neighborho­od. Mr. Owens was standing outside his vehicle in the 1300 block of Columbus Avenue when he was shot about 10 p.m. on April 24, 2015.

“Your honor, this has ripped my heart out,” said Joan Owens, the victims’ grandmothe­r. “But I believe, in time, God will heal us.”

She recalled helping her son raise Derrick — that he had been going to community college, coaching youth football, loved church and loved playing the drums.

Like her son, she spoke about not wanting Derrick’s five children, who range from 5 to 12 years old, to be angry.

“I don’t want Derrick’s children growing up thinking the system doesn’t work,” she said. “I want them to remember justice spoke for them.”

Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi asked the court to sentence Austin to serve 25 to 50 years in prison, calling him a danger to society, with a lengthy criminal record.

But defense attorney Ralph Karsh argued that his client’s father died when he was 2, and his mother was arrested at one time on drug charges with her son.

“He didn’t have much of a chance coming up,” Mr. Karsh said.

He asked for a prison term of 10 to 20 years.

But before that, Mr. Karsh made an oral motion for a judgment of acquittal, telling Judge Ignelzi that he did not believe the prosecutio­n proved its case.

Mr. Karsh, whose client claims innocence, focused on testimony from an eyewitness who said that the shooter was clean-shaven, whereas Austin has had a beard for eight years. Mr. Karsh presented testimony to that effect.

Judge Ignelzi denied the motion and said he would not explain his verdict, based on guidance from the state Superior Court.

The state Superior Court, Judge Ignelzi said, has “made it abundantly clear” that judges in a nonjury trial should not “slice and dice” or explain their opinions when rendering the verdict.

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