PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former armored car guard was convicted Tuesday of murdering his partner to steal $2.3 million from their truck, money he used to flee Pittsburgh and entertain strippers and prostitutes before he was found hiding in Florida two months later.
Allegheny County Judge David Cashman's verdict means Kenneth Konias Jr., 24, of Dravosburg, faces a mandatory life prison sentence without parole, though that term must still be formally imposed Feb. 18.
Konias was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery and theft in the seventh day of his trial on charges he killed fellow Garda Cash Logistics guard Michael Haines and stole the money they had collected from businesses earlier that day, Feb. 28, 2012, most of it from Pittsburgh's Rivers Casino.
Haines' body was found inside the idling truck under Pittsburgh's 31st Street Bridge.
"Michael Haines was merely in the way," Deputy District Attorney Robert Schupansky said after the verdict. "And the defendant has been held responsible for taking him out of the way."
Haines' family left the courtroom without comment, but released a statement thanking city, county and federal law enforcement officials who investigated the case, and the greater Pittsburgh community and the media for supporting the family and respecting their privacy. The statement didn't address the verdict.
Konias didn't react to the verdict. Defense attorney Charles LoPresti said his client was "enormously disappointed," but stopped short of saying whether he'd appeal.
LoPresti had argued that Konias killed Haines in self-defense, allegedly after Haines pulled a gun when the men argued over a computerized scanner that, LoPresti and Konias claimed, wasn't working properly.
"Konias' story has not changed from 5:30 in the morning April 23," LoPresti said, referring to the date last year when the defendant was arrested in Pompano Beach, Fla., after a prostitute tipped off police.
In rendering his verdict, Judge Cashman repeatedly called the scanner a "McGuffin," a term referring to a plot device used in movies or plays to misdirect the audience. Essentially, Cashman determined Konias was lying when he claimed the scanner prompted an argument in which Haines drew his weapon before Konias shot him.
Cashman noted that Haines was shot execution-style, from about 6 inches behind the head, while the interior of the truck and Haines' clothes showed no signs of a violent struggle. As for the scanner, the judge noted that Konias was seen on surveillance video at the casino using it without any problem to tabulate money picked up that day and noted the device was used to issue receipts at each stop.
The scanner was found in a battery-charger holster in the truck, which Cashman especially ridiculed, since Konias claimed the argument started when Haines threw it at the back of his head while he was driving the truck.
If that happened, Cashman said, "it's got to hit the floor of that truck at some time; it doesn't bounce off your head and wind up in the charger where it was found."
Federal authorities recovered about $1.3 million of the stolen money, and believe Konias spent the rest, had it stolen from him by those who helped him hide in Florida, or gave some to a cab driver Konias hoped would help Konias escape to Haiti. The Florida cab driver has never been charged.
"This was all about money," Schupansky said. "This was about one person trying to obtain what he didn't want to work for."