MILAN SIMONICH, PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
Copyright 2006 P.G. Publishing Co.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
A bullet to the back killed William Lee Leister, the off-duty prison guard who got into a gunfight with state police in Somerset County on New Year's Day.
County Coroner Wallace Miller said yesterday that two bullets hit Mr. Leister, 38, in the shoot-out Sunday morning at the victim's Berlin home.
The fatal shot entered his back and exited through his chest. Another bullet hit Mr. Leister in the abdomen and went through his left hip.
Mr. Miller said he did not know which bullet struck Mr. Leister first, so it's possible that he was hit in the back after being shot from the front.
The findings, Mr. Miller said, rule out suicide and indicate that state troopers killed Mr. Leister.
The coroner said he witnessed the gunfight, which followed a 12-hour standoff. He said he believed Mr. Leister shot at police first, then was felled by return fire.
"I actually believe he was exiting [his home] when he was shot," Mr. Miller said.
Earlier accounts by police said Mr. Leister was found dead in his home.
Mr. Miller said he probably will call an inquest in which a coroner's jury of six people will review Mr. Leister's confrontation with police and the subsequent shooting.
The purpose of the inquest will be to determine if police were justified in shooting Mr. Leister, said Somerset District Attorney Jerry Spangler.
Mr. Spangler said the coroner's jury would recommend whether charges should be filed. But Mr. Spangler, as the county prosecutor, would make the final determination.
The coroner would preside over the inquest. Mr. Spangler would question witnesses and serve as a fact finder, not a prosecutor.
Police said Mr. Leister caused a one-man crime wave Saturday night and Sunday morning.
By their account, the chaos began when he ran a car off the road and rammed it, injuring two young women. He then abducted one of the women, Ashley Bittinger, 21.
A witness, Larry Glover, 46, tried to help, but Mr. Leister shot him "multiple times," police said. Mr. Glover was in critical condition yesterday at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.
After that shooting, Mr. Leister forced Ms. Bittinger to go with him to his home. Apparently infatuated with her for some time, he held her against her will.
He eventually let her go, but then continued his confrontation with police.
Mr. Spangler said the early investigation shows that Mr. Leister initiated the shooting. "He was the first person to fire," Mr. Spangler said.
Prison administrators said Mr. Leister worked for 12 years at the State Correctional Institution-Laurel Highlands.
Milan Simonich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1956.
January 3, 2006