10/30/2023 - District Attorney Calls Testimony of Second Expert Witness in Murder Trial Into Question

Lawrence County's district attorney, in a recent development, continued to raise doubts regarding the testimonies of two expert defense witnesses concerning the mental state of Michael J. D'Biagio on September 19, 2019. This was the day when D'Biagio, without dispute, fired five shots at his daughter's boyfriend, 17-year-old Darren Scott Jevcak, outside Scustie's Pizza on Highland Avenue. After the young man fell to the ground with gunshot wounds, D'Biagio, as per his own admission, delivered a fatal sixth shot at close range to his head, resulting in his tragic demise.

The pivotal question that the upcoming jury trial will address is whether D'Biagio, a 45-year-old resident of Beaver County, can be considered not guilty by reason of insanity for the crime. Alternatively, the jury must determine whether he was aware of the wrongdoing when he drove for 30 minutes with the intention to locate and kill Jevcak, a declaration he made to an office worker at his place of employment.

District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa is seeking a conviction for premeditated first-degree murder. During the proceedings, he continued to cross-examine Dr. Sara West, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed D'Biagio 1 1/2 years after the incident. Dr. West, in her teleconference testimony, noted that she had also reviewed D'Biagio's extensive medical history and prescribed medications. She further mentioned interviewing D'Biagio's former spouse regarding baseless infidelity suspicions and depressive issues, leading to her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

Lamancusa queried whether Dr. West had consulted with a police officer regarding D'Biagio's mental state after the shooting while compiling her report. She replied that she had not but had relied on police reports, including the affidavit of probable cause. Additionally, she admitted to not viewing a bystander-supplied video depicting D'Biagio's demeanor following the shooting. Concluding her testimony, she reiterated her belief that D'Biagio was legally insane on July 19, 2019.

Technical difficulties with the video testimony of expert witness Dr. Peter Breggin from Ithaca, New York, prompted Lamancusa to question the doctor about his website, implying that it contained some self-promotion and potentially misleading information regarding his credentials. The website claimed he had authored more than 20 books and numerous papers on the effects of psychiatric drugs. Lamancusa also inquired about prior court orders that had restricted him from testifying.

Dr. Breggin concurred with Dr. West's diagnosis of D'Biagio and testified about the violent and manic side effects that the prescribed drugs, including Zoloft, might have had on D'Biagio on the day of the shooting. He noted that D'Biagio appeared to experience a manic episode, and the drug-induced irritability could lead to a loss of impulse control.

Lamancusa questioned the compensation Dr. Breggin received for his testimony, to which he replied $24,000.

Both Dr. West and Dr. Breggin were called as witnesses by D'Biagio's defense attorney, Wendy Williams of Pittsburgh. The defense's strategy is to establish that D'Biagio should be deemed not guilty by reason of insanity in the case of Jevcak's killing.

The trial is set to resume on Monday at 1 p.m., during which Lamancusa is expected to present a counter-expert witness for the prosecution. Following the presentation of closing arguments, the jury will deliberate and ultimately deliver a verdict, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning.