Vet's lawyer claims self-defense in deadly road-rage shooting

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa. - The attorney for an Army veteran charged with fatally shooting another motorist in a Washington County parking lot has told a jury in his opening statement that the shooting was self-defense in a road-rage dispute.

But prosecutors contend 32-year-old Brandon Thomas got out of his vehicle and purposely shot 55-year-old Vaughn Simonelli, of Chartiers Township, in the shoulder and back in the Shop 'n Save parking lot on Oct. 18, 2012.

“I looked at the shooter and said, ‘You didn’t have to shoot him twice,’” said a witness.

The defense contends Thomas suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and was blocked in his parking space by Simonelli's vehicle, which witnesses say sped after Thomas' SUV after the men argued at a traffic light.

Some witnesses claim Thomas, of Upper St. Clair, got out of his vehicle and shot Simonelli -- the version prosecutors believe. But others support Thomas' version that he shot from inside the vehicle as Simonelli threw a punch.

Channel 11's Cara Sapida reported that Thomas is a war veteran who was awarded several Purple Hearts for his service.

"He was a decorated war veteran. Three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Medal of Valor, he was honorably discharged, Phi Beta Kappa -- he is an outstanding human being, an outstanding young man. First thing I did when I met him I said, 'Thank you for your service,'" said defense attorney Frank Walker.

Thomas served three tours of duty, two in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, Sapida reported.

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