West Liberty shooting over drugs

Victims say alleged missing heroin started fight

Published by Joe Wells, Date: September 23, 2021
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Charges against the suspect in a Sept. 11 shooting and stabbing in West Liberty were held for Butler County Court on Wednesday after hearing testimony from both victims.

Gary F. Sweesy, 47, of Harrisville, pleaded not guilty to 11 charges including attempted criminal homicide during his preliminary hearing in front of District Judge William O’Donnell. Other felonies filed against Sweesy include aggravated assault, burglary and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

Sweesy also faces two counts of simple assault, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and making terroristic threats – all misdemeanor charges. Sweesy has been in Butler County Jail without bond since being arrested the day of the attack.

During the preliminary hearing Wednesday afternoon, O’Donnell heard testimony from both victims who said Sweesy was upset over missing drugs when he awoke on the morning of Sept. 11.

The first witness for the Commonwealth, Lisa Toth, said Sweesy awoke in her kitchen while she was getting a glass of water and started yelling about missing heroin. Toth said Sweesy demanded to know where her boyfriend, Eric Crooks, was, claiming he had stolen some heroin.

Toth, who said she was awake all night, told Sweesy that Crooks had been sleeping the entire time and never left the bedroom. She said Sweesy became irate, calling her a liar and to get out. Angry with how he was talking to her, Toth said she got in Sweesy’s face.

“I said ‘Gary, this is my house, you get the [expletive] out,” Toth told the court.

In her testimony, Toth said she saw Sweesy pull an AK-pattern rifle from a gun case before walking toward the back bedroom where Crooks was sleeping. She said she felt Sweesy put the rifle to her back and say, “You think I won’t do it,” just before being shot.

That shot entered Toth’s back and exited the left side of her neck. In the courtroom, with bandages still on her neck, Toth said she passed out briefly before coming to and seeing Crooks in the hallway with a knife in his back.

With Sweesy in the front room, Toth attempted to move toward Crooks but was too weak to help, according to her testimony. Toth said she passed out again and when she awoke again shortly after, she was able to make her way out the front door and yelled that she was calling the cops. When Sweesy pushed past her outside, Toth went back in and locked the door, she said.

In his testimony, Crooks told the court he was woken up by the sound of a gunshot. When he stepped into the hallway, he saw Toth on the ground bleeding and immediately tried to help his girlfriend.

Crooks said he did not recall what Sweesy was doing at the time. Joel Hills, Sweesy’s attorney, asked why, knowing that his girlfriend was just shot he wasn’t worried about any immediate threat.

“There was blood coming out of my girlfriend,” Crooks replied.

While helping Toth, Crooks said he was stabbed in the back by Sweesy and could feel him twist it and his legs going numb. After Toth got the front door locked, Crooks was able to get a chair in front of it to keep Sweesy out, he said.

According to both Toth and Crooks, Sweesy was able to reenter the home through a back door. Injured, Crooks said he grabbed a pool cue that he keeps in the bedroom to protect Toth and him.

Crooks told the court he wanted to get his charger. Crooks said he struck Sweesy three times with the pool cue before it broke. Using the broken stick, Crooks tried to stab Sweesy, he said. Sweesy grabbed his belongings and took off.

Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Jessica Titler, the charging officer, said arriving units secured the area and immediately set out to find Sweesy. That manhunt prompted a security alert from Slippery Rock University which is 4 miles from the scene.

Titler testified that Sweesy was apprehended shortly afterward in a wooded area near the home on Smith Road. A search of the property found a bloody and bent kitchen knife along with drug paraphernalia. While looking for Sweesy, the PSP recovered a gun case inside a boat on a neighboring property. Inside the case police found one AK- and one AR-pattern rifle.

According to her testimony, Toth said Sweesy, Crooks and herself had been up the night prior taking drugs. Toth recalled Sweesy repeatedly saying he wanted to die and that he wanted to take another person with him because he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone.

Toth told the court that while Sweesy and Crooks were friends, Sweesy had been accusing Crooks of sleeping with his girlfriend. During the night of Sept. 10 and leading into the next day, Sweesy went outside the residence while talking to his girlfriend on the phone and fired a handgun into the air at least six times, according to Toth.

Titler told the court that the police were able to recover eight 9mm casings outside the residence. On Sept. 18 a neighbor of Toth’s called police and reported they had found a handgun and other items on their property.

The PSP recovered a Springfield Armory 9mm handgun, two knives, a pill bottle with Sweesy’s name on it and other items, Titler said.

Titler said no drugs were found at the scene but two bags of heroin were found in a hallway while police questioned Sweesy. According to Titler, Sweesy told police they had fallen out of his rectum.

Sweesy will continue to be held in Butler County Jail without bond. He is scheduled for a formal arraignment Nov. 16 at the Butler County Courthouse.

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Joe is a senior communication major with concentrations in converged journalism and digital media production. This is his second year with The Rocket and first as the news editor. With a penchant for asking tough questions, his byline can be found on more than 100 articles for The Rocket including many breaking news and investigative pieces. During the hours he’s not wearing the hat of student journalist, he spends his time as a husband, father and dog owner in Slippery Rock.

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