Homicide Trial: Prosecution’s Primary Witness

[This is Part 3 in a series covering the homicide trial of Leon Platt. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.]

Update April 14, 8:30 a.m.: The defense called no witnesses and the jury began deliberations yesterday afternoon. They will reconvene today.

Platt, 28, of Rochester, is accused of murdering Richard Hogue, 28, just after 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2013 in an apartment on 411 Loop St. in Ellwood City.

Lawrence County Judge J. Craig Cox is hearing the case, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Minett is prosecuting and defense attorney John Bongivengo is representing Platt.

On Thursday, April 7, the prosecution’s key witness, Taylor Foley, testified. In cross-examination, Bongivengo questioned the credibility of Foley’s testimony.

Taylor Foley, 19, of Ellwood City had been friends with Platt for years. In November 2013, she was 17 years old and living at an apartment on 311 Franklin Ave. with her infant son. In the days leading up to Nov. 16, she moved back with her parents on Skyline Drive.

According to her testimony, she drove Platt to the home of Ralph Pounds on Fox Street on Nov. 11, and Platt fired at the house. On Nov. 16, her and Platt fired handguns at Linda Boots’ car parked near West End Cafe on the 1200 block of Lawrence Avenue. At the Loop Street apartment, Foley witnessed Platt point a pistol at Hogue but turned her back to cover her son’s ears when the shot was fired.

Foley called 911 and was on the scene when Ellwood officers arrived at the Loop Street apartment. According to the testimony of Officer John Lubich, Foley wouldn’t initially identify the shooter. However, she did describe Platt’s clothing and tattoos.

Later in the morning, Lubich requested permission to question Foley from her father, Kim, which was granted. Foley was driven to the police station by a friend and gave a recorded statement to Officer Brian Damon at the Ellwood City Police Station in which she identified the murderer as Platt.

In the statement, which was played during Damon’s testimony on Friday, Foley omitted her involvement in the shooting incidents and claimed to not know anything about firearms.

In December 2013, Foley was a witness at the preliminary hearing where she testified to seeing the shot fired. However, nearly a year later in November 2014, she used her Fifth Amendment right to not self-incriminate and refused to testify.

Also in 2014, Foley implicated Crumb in text messages and a Facebook post. She also claimed credit for shooting at the Pounds’ house on Nov. 11 in another Facebook post.

In February 2015, Foley was arrested and faces charges for possession of an illegal substance with intent to deliver. She has also lost custody of her child to the Lawrence County Child and Youth Services.

At the trial on April 7, Foley testified under a use immunity order, which means anything she says during the trial cannot be used to press charges against her. However, during the cross-examination, Bongivengo said she isn’t protected from the testimony of others or physical evidence gathered.

The narrative Foley gave began with her driving Platt to Fox Street on Nov. 11 to shoot at the home of Ralph Pounds. Foley and Platt both had had conflicts with the Pounds. Platt used a .45 caliber Kimber pistol. Shell casings retrieved from the area by state police matched the pistol.

Foley and Platt spent much of Nov. 15 moving from her Franklin Avenue apartment to her parent’s house on Skyline Drive. That night, the two of them traveled to Loop Street because somebody owed Foley money. The vehicle used is owned by her mother, Renee Foley.

At the apartment on Loop Street, they met up with Heather Hall and her boyfriend, Laxavier Crumb. Foley was acquainted with both of them. Richard Hogue and Shane Mikhalo were also present, but Foley didn’t know either of them. Mikhalo was a friend of the apartment’s resident, Tina McNulty, who wasn’t home that night.

Foley, Platt, Hogue and Crumb decided to terrorize the Pounds. Initially, they intended to throw a homemade incendiary commonly referred to as a Molotov Cocktail into the home of Linda Boots on 13th Street. According to Foley, Platt talked Hogue out of the idea because innocent people could be hurt.

Instead, Foley and Platt shot at Boots’ car parked along the 1200 block of Lawrence Avenue. Platt used the Kimber and Foley a 9mm handgun. Foley and Platt returned to her parents’ house to drop of the guns.

Afterward, Hogue and Foley drove back to Lawrence Avenue to check on the damage. They erroneously believed the shots had all missed. When the two returned, an argument ensued between Hogue and Platt.

Hogue claimed he could shoot a running deer and Platt couldn’t shoot a stationary vehicle.

“Platt said, ‘I don’t shoot. I fight’,” Foley testified.

As the argument heated, Mikhalo left the apartment, Hall was in the bedroom, Crumb was sitting next to Hogue, Platt was across from them and Foley was on another end of the room with her son.

Unknown to Foley, Platt still had the Kimber in his pants pocket. He placed one bullet into the magazine and shot Hogue in the abdomen. Foley said she turned her back to protect her son’s ears and didn’t see the shot.

The other witnesses in the apartment gave testimonies corroborating their positions during the incident, and Crumb testified to seeing the shot.

After the shot was fired, everyone fled the scene except Foley. When the prosecution asked why she stayed, Foley replied, “Because he was dying and all his friends had left.”

Foley called 911, although she had to call twice to get a response. Officers and emergency personnel arrived on the scene, and Foley described Platt’s appearance. Platt was apprehended by Koppel officers around West Lawrence Avenue later that morning.

Ellwood police found the Kimber hidden in a shoe box in Kim Foley’s garage. The 9mm and Molotov Cocktail were never found.

In the cross examination, Bongivengo asked why Foley had given conflicting versions of her story in previous testimonies. Foley said she didn’t want to incriminate herself.

The defense also used Foley’s social media posts as evidence. Foley testified that she had lied on social media. On Facebook, Foley had taken credit for the Nov. 11 incident to her brother’s girlfriend.

When asked by Bongivengo why she would lie, she said the person was nobody of importance.

“She’s your brother’s girlfriend,” Bongivengo said.

“She’s nothing to me,” Foley replied.

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