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Gesslein testifies that he fired fatal shots 'because I thought I was going to die'

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Apr 03 2013 11:18:25 AM CDT
Updated On: Apr 04 2013 07:18:50 AM CDT

The security guard accused in the fatal shooting of a rapper at a club in Allentown last year said he fired his weapon "because I thought I was going to die."

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The jury will hear closing arguments Thursday morning in the trial of a security guard charged with voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an Allentown rapper last year.

Andrew Gesslein II, of Tilden Twp., Berks Co., was on the witness stand for almost two hours late Wednesday morning and early afternoon during the third day of his trial in Lehigh County Court.

Although prosecutors pointed out some details of Gesslein's testimony differed from what he told police in the aftermath of the shooting last April 29, Gesslein stood firm in his claim that he acted in self-defense when he fired at 23-year-old Michael Maurice "O Head" Randolph, who had forced his way into the North End Republican Club.

Gesslein said the club's president, Robert E. Smith, had ordered him to keep Randolph and some of his friends out of the club on April 29 because they had been involved in a disturbance there the night before that required police to be called in.

Gesslein said Randolph became irate when Gesslein told him he couldn't enter, and every time Gesslein opened the door, Randolph was there making a series of escalating threats.

First assistant district attorney Steve Luksa grilled Gesslein about his training and familiarity with guns, and asked him if he was supposed to be carrying a gun the night he shot Randolph.

Smith, the club's president, testified earlier in the week that his contract with Gesslein's employer, Eye in the Sky, was for "unarmed service."

But Gesslein disputed that, saying he was authorized by his boss to bring a gun into the club and that Smith had no problem with it.

Gesslein also resisted Luksa's suggestions that he would not have let anyone through the door after 3 a.m., as club rules state,  if he thought Randolph and others outside the club door were a real threat to him. Gesslein said he only did so because Smith and Smith's daughter ordered him to make exceptions.

Gesslein also said that besides making threats, Randolph was smoking marijuana and blowing smoke in his face every time he opened the door. "I'm 43 years old and never done it," Gesslein said.

Gesslein testified that Randolph and three other men "bum-rushed" the door he was guarding, forcing their way into the club.

Gesslein said Randolph and one of the men attacked him, each holding one of his arms, and they were beating him, before he broke free and fired his gun. "I fought with everything I had," Gesslein said. "I thought I was going to die."

Gesslein testified that when he drew his gun, he pointed it at the ground and the safety was on, adding that he only fired when Randolph reached for something underneath his shirt. "That when I saw the handle of a gun," Gesslein said. "If he didn't reach deep, he would never have been shot."

No gun, except Gesslein's, was ever found at the club after the shooting.

Gesslein said he never saw a muzzle before he fired at Randolph, and that he didn't know if he had hit Randolph until he ran outside the club and saw Randolph lying there.

Gesslein said he's owned guns for 20 years and is licensed to carry, and that he never fired a gun at anyone before the Randolph shooting.

Wednesday morning, a forensic pathologist testified that Randolph was likely not facing Gesslein when he fatally shot him..

Dr. Rameen Starling-Roney, who did the autopsy on Randolph, said that the paths of the three bullets that hit Randolph -- including the one that did the most damage -- said it was more likely that when Randolph was shot, he had his back to Gesslein.

The jury saw two diagrams from Starling-Roney projected onto a screen showing where the gunshots hit Randolph. They also watched Starling-Roney and first assistant district attorney Steve Luksa re-enact ways the bullets could have traveled in Randolph's body.

Starling-Roney said the most lethal gunshot -- which he classified as "rapidly fatal" -- entered Randolph's right shoulder and then hit a rib, his diaphragm, his right kidney, liver, heart, left lung and another rib before lodging in his left shoulder.

Randolph was also hit by shots in the upper portion of his right thigh and right lower abdomen, Starling-Roney said, adding that he classified those wounds as "contributing to blood loss."

When the prosecutor asked Gesslein about Starling-Roney's testimony, he replied, "I cannot rebut what he says. It wasn't a frontal shot."

The jury also heard from Allentown Detective Andrew Hackman, who explained how he gathered evidence after the shooting, including collecting Randolph's clothing at the hospital and 14 Winchester .45 caliber bullets and two Colt magazines from Gesslein.

Hackman said Gesslein was arrested on June 7, after police interviewed 25 to 30 of the 90 people in the club on the night the shooting occurred.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney James Connell, Hackman admitted that Gesslein cooperated with his investigation.