The rat-a-tat-tat sounds of gunfire, then the screams and moans of pain that followed at a rural township meeting in the Poconos were played in court Thursday during a preliminary hearing for the alleged gunman -- an eccentric man with a long-running feud with the township over the junk-strewn property in the woods he called home.
Family members and friends of the victims dabbed tears from their eyes as they listened to the tape, an official recording of the Aug. 5 Ross Township supervisors meeting where three people were gunned down.
As the tape played, what sounded like an attack on a battlefield, laced with screams of “I can’t get up. Oh my God, oh my God,” Rockne Newell, the man accused of the massacre, sat at the defense table in Monroe County Court, eyes closed for the most part, unfazed, looking asleep.
Nor did Newell react when Magisterial District Judge Kris Anzini sent all the charges to court Thursday following three hours of testimony, including a firsthand account by the township solicitor, John Dunn.
Dunn is one of the men Newell allegedly targeted after Newell lost his property in a protracted court fight with the township, led by Dunn.
The hearing drew a large amount of attention. Security was incredibly tight at the courthouse, and several armed SWAT team members were seen in the area.
Inside, the courtroom was also heavily guarded as prosecutors played the recording of the massacre at the meeting.
Outside the courtroom, as Newell was being taken away, E. David Christine Jr., the district attorney, said Newell could face the death penalty if convicted of the three deaths.
The frantic calls to 911 also were played.
“We need ambulances, many of them, many of them,” a caller told the emergency dispatcher, while someone else in the background could be heard: “Stay with me. Come on, breathe.”
Witnesses recalled first hearing “popping sounds” that night, thinking someone must be blasting off firecrackers. That thought vanished after the walls began to splinter with bullets they figured out were flying from somewhere outside the township building.
Later, while reconstructing the crime scene, state police determined 14 shots from a rifle had been fired near a window, traveling through the zoning officer’s office and into the meeting room.
The code enforcement officer, David Fleetwood, 62, was fatally shot in the abdomen by the doorway and later died at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township, outside Allentown.
Dawn Gorham, a woman who encountered Newell in the parking lot outside the building before the shooting, said she spoke briefly with Newell as she was leaving.
He wanted to know if the meeting was over, then went to his car and was carrying a rifle as he walked toward the municipal building.
Gorham said she was getting ready to drive away when she saw the man, whom she identified as Newell, head toward some bushes, lift his rifle and begin shooting through the window.
“I really didn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said.
Gorham testified she saw Newell shoot Fleetwood in the stomach and another man, later identified as James LaGuardia, 64, of Saylorsburg, who was running down a ramp.
Investigators believe LaGuardia ran down a handicap ramp to get away and was shot in the back of his neck at the base of the skull and in the buttocks.
“I saw two people get shot,” Gorham said, referring to Fleetwood and LaGuardia.
Another victim, Gerard Kozic, 53, of Saylorsburg, was gunned down in the meeting room. He was shot three times, including a fatal shot to the abdomen.
Gorham said she called 911 as soon as she drove out of the parking lot and onto the highway.
Dunn, the township’s solicitor, described the two rounds of gunfire that raked the room that night, the first coming from outside the building, then a lull, and another round when Newell appeared at the meeting room door, cursing, while saying: “You took my property.”
After the rifle shots, investigators said Newell retrieved a handgun from his car and went into the meeting room, where more shots were fired.
Bernard Kozen, one of the men who restrained Newell, said he was applying pressure to Fleetwood’s wounds when he saw Newell walking toward the building with a “large silver handgun.”
“He’s coming back,” Kozen yelled to the others. Then he stepped into a hallway and jumped Newell from behind as Newell entered the room. There was a scuffle and the gun went off several times, Kozen said.
After he was finally restrained and shot once in the leg by his own gun, Newell complained “they took my land” and later complained the handcuffs were hurting him, Kozen said.
Inside the ambulance en route to Pocono Medical Center, Newell said he was “very upset he didn’t get the lawyer,” testified paramedic Leonard Dever.
“He (Newell) said he was the victim,” Dever said. “He said he was getting ready to kill the lawyer.”
“I told him I didn’t need to know all that,” Dever said, adding a state trooper was also in the ambulance when Newell made those remarks.
According to court papers, a trooper reported he heard Newell state, “I wish I killed more of them,” while being led from the scene.
Prosecutors added additional charges before the hearing began, bringing the total crimes charged to three counts of homicide, six attempted homicide, two aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.
Christine said a judge from Montgomery County has been selected to preside over the trial. A date has not been scheduled.
Newell is being held without bail at the Monroe County Correctional Facility.