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HERMITAGE Shooting witness changes story



Published: Sat, November 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Authorities are now looking for a man known only by his three street names.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

HERMITAGE, Pa. -- The homicide case against Arthur Norman Paige Jr. fell apart Friday when the prosecution's only eyewitness changed his story.

Paige, 26, of Fleetwood Court, Wheatland, was accused of homicide in the Oct. 3 shooting death of Rasceo A. "Angel" Riley, 30, of 218 Fruit Ave., Farrell, in front of Riley's home.

Paige's arrest was based on statements from a witness, Rondell J. Palmer, 28, of New Castle, who told authorities that Paige pointed a Glock .45-caliber pistol at Riley as Riley stepped off his porch around 11:45 a.m. Oct. 3.

Palmer said he heard a shot and ran away, and heard three more shots as he ran.

Story changes: However, when Palmer was called as a witness to testify before District Justice Henry Russo at Paige's preliminary hearing Friday, he had a different recollection of the event.

He said Paige, known by the street name "Oppy," had the gun earlier in the evening but that he gave it to a man Palmer knew only by his three street names -- Shorty, Knowledge and Sleepy.

Although Paige was present, it was Shorty, who is from New York City, who had the gun when Riley was shot, Palmer testified, adding that he didn't see Paige with any weapon nor did he notice any weapon on Riley.

Riley died of single gunshot wound to the head, and police said they found a loaded 9 mm handgun tucked in his waistband.

Palmer said there had been some bad blood between Paige and Riley a week before the shooting when Riley was found at the apartment of Paige's girlfriend, but that matter had been resolved.

Charge dismissed: The prosecution had no other witnesses to the shooting and, based on Palmer's testimony, Russo dismissed the homicide charge against Paige, saying the state had failed to prove its case.

"I'm not guilty, man," Paige said before leaving the courtroom.

Atty. James Epstein, Mercer County district attorney, said Palmer's memory change wasn't totally unexpected.

Investigators had an indication earlier in the day that he was going to change his story, but Epstein said he decided to proceed with the hearing to get Palmer's sworn testimony on the record.

He refused to say if Palmer might face some charge in the case.

Authorities don't know yet who Shorty is, but they have some leads, said Atty. Robert Kochems, the assistant district attorney handling the case.

The investigation into the slaying isn't over, Epstein said, noting breaking into the "subculture world of drugs" is extremely difficult.

He said Paige failed a lie-detector test when questioned about his involvement in the case and that a lie-detector test taken by Palmer after he implicated Paige in the shooting was inconclusive.

Lie-detector tests are not admissible as evidence in Pennsylvania courts.




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