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Murder, manslaughter charges bound over after Friday preliminary hearing

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Haggar Brewer is led into the Jackson Courtroom at the Warren County Courthouse for a preliminary hearing Friday morning. He faces charges of third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the March killing of Victor Vantassel.

A Spring Creek Township man has been held for court on third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter charges as a result of a Friday morning preliminary hearing.

Haggar S. Brewer, Sr., 57, was charged last month in connection with the shooting death of Victor V. Vantassel, 57.

Brewer and Vantassel’s residences were located next to each other on Cold Spring Rd.

First to testify on Friday was Vantassel’s fiance, who lived with him.

She stated that she went out to put wood on the fire when Brewer started walking toward her with a beer in his hand yelling at her. Vantassel, she testified, was asleep in the residence.

She said Vantassel got up “and the next thing I know the gun went off and Victor was shot. (I) heard the gun go off. That’s all I heard.”

She testified observing Vantassel and Brewer get into a scuffle, explaining that Brewer pushed Vantassel and they “started wrestling on the ground.” She said it was “maybe a minute” before the gun went off and she ran out to him.

“I was so mad and angry,” she said, that she threw mud in Brewer’s face. “He told me I started it all. That’s why Victor got shot.” She testified she had been on Brewer’s property a couple days prior and that was why he was yelling at her.

She also took a cell phone out of Vantassel’s pocket and called 911.

“Victor laid in that mud for hours,” she said, noting she held her hand on his stomach so he didn’t bleed out.

Brewer’s attorney, Rob Kinnear, pointed out that state police had been to Vantassel’s residence for a domestic and asserted that Brewer had let Vantassel use his phone to call police on his fiancee. He outlined other charges she faced against Vantassel, including in connection with a stabbing.

Jeffrey Dahl, criminal investigator with the Pennsylvania State Police, said that a death certificate from the coroner determined Vantassel died by a “single gunshot wound to the abdomen.” He stood up and pointed just below his rib cage to indicate the location of Vantassel’s wound.

Dahl testified that Brewer also called 911 and first discussed the domestic the night before. He then said that someone attacked him in the yard and that he shot them.

Discussing an autopsy conducted by Dr. Eric Vey, an Erie-based forensic pathologist, Dahl said that powder burns were found on Vantassel’s wrist, indicating close proximity to the discharged firearm.

The autopsy also revealed a “cut or scrape” on Vantassel’s nose which he believed to be from the domestic dispute the night before.

Dahl described the shot as “more just a reaction” in light of his interview with Brewer. He said Brewer’s story was that Vantassl was on top of him and that he blocked punches from Vantassel before ultimately firing, believing he shot him in the lower abdomen. He did not believe Brewer showed any forethought to kill or held any ill will toward Vantassel.

He added that Brewer and Vantassel had spent most of the previous day together, per Brewer, and that Brewer said the two men were “friendly.”

District Attorney Rob Greene said that he does not believe there was premeditation in this case, meaning first-degree murder wouldn’t be an appropriate charge.

He then detailed the charges he was bringing against Brewer – third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Kinnear asserted that Brewer showed no malice – a requirement for the murder charge – but Greene asserted that there was wanton conduct and reckless behavior.

“I think he intended to shoot the victim,” Greene said.

District Judge Todd Woodin agreed and said Brewer’s case would be bound over.

Both third-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter are first-degree felonies. As such, they carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

His next court appearance – formal arraignment at the Court of Common Pleas level – is set for May 20.

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