PITTSBURGH — A former armored car guard has been ordered to stand trial on charges that he murdered his partner and took $2.3 million from their vehicle in Pittsburgh in February, though an FBI agent who questioned him after his arrest in Florida two months later testified Friday that the suspect told him he shot the other guard in self-defense.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Tranquilli said after Friday's preliminary hearing for Kenneth Konias Jr. that evidence inside the Garda Cash Logistics truck doesn't support Konias' claim that fellow guard Michael Haines, 31, attacked and fought with Konias before the Feb. 28 shooting, however.
"I think it's pretty clear from the scene itself what went on here," Tranquilli said. Prosecutors contend Konias shot the unsuspecting Haines once in the back of the head, before looting the truck — which he left idling under a Pittsburgh bridge — and driving to Florida, where Konias was arrested by FBI agents and others on April 24.
Pittsburgh District Judge Mary Murray ordered Konias to stand trial on charges of criminal homicide, robbery and theft after hearing from two witnesses, FBI Special Agent Gerard Starkey, who interviewed Konias for hours after his arrest in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Pittsburgh homicide Detective James Smith. Konias faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, though prosecutors haven't decided whether they might also pursue the death penalty.
Konias was arrested in a house rented for him by a man he described to authorities as a "pimp" who also supplied Konias with female prostitutes. Investigators have said someone tipped them off to Konias' whereabouts.
Starkey said Konias turned over more than $1 million hidden in a storage space a block away and before detailing where some of the other money had been stashed or spent. But Starkey said Konias was evasive about exactly what led to Haines' shooting except to say "that it was a self-defense issue."
Instead, Konias carped about the media portraying him as a "killer" — Konias said he followed Internet media accounts on cellphones he bought — and talked about how he was a good employee for Garda.
"He was just trying, in my estimation, to buy time," Starkey said.
Eventually, Konias acknowledged shooting Haines, but said that happened only after they argued and engaged in a violent struggle during which Haines drew his gun before Konias kicked it out of his hand, Starkey said. Konias said the fight began when Haines threw a hand-held money scanner at the back of his head while he was driving.
Detective Smith testified the money scanner was found still in a holster mounted on one of the armored car's interior walls, secured further by a rubber band, and that there was no sign of a fight in the vehicle. Haines was also not bruised and, except for his missing 9mm duty pistol — which Konias acknowledged taking and was found in his Florida hideout — his clothes and personal effects were undisturbed.
Instead, Smith said Haines' body was found facing the back of the truck, in a fetal position behind Konias' drivers' compartment.
Starkey said Konias picked up his vehicle at Garda headquarters, then returned to offload money from the truck. After stealing a license plate from a car in a mall parking lot, Konias drove to the home he shared with his parents in Dravosburg to shower and change, then stopped for gas before driving to Florida.
Konias told Starkey he also stopped at his grandmother's grave, near his home, where he prayed and left $50,000 for his parents to find, along with another $100,000 to $200,000 at their home, plus another $10,000 in some work boots at a friend's home.
Konias befriended a cab driver in Florida who helped him obtain fake IDs and who Konias believed would help him escape to Haiti after giving that man $700,000 to $800,000. A prostitute also allegedly stole $92,000 from Konias at one point.
Tranquilli said FBI agents in Florida and Pittsburgh are still tracing the money and that all but about $500,000 has been recovered — including all the money Konias left in Pennsylvania. He refused to identify the cab driver or others involved in Konias' Florida odyssey, or to say whether they may, too, face charges.
FBI officials did not immediately return a call.
Defense attorney Charles LoPresti refused to say if he would argue self-defense at trial.
"I think for the first time we've gotten to hear what Mr. Konias told the FBI," LoPresti said, adding he's yet to review the investigative reports and other evidence that will be turned over to him in the coming weeks.
Konias didn't comment during the hearing or as he was led back to the county jail.