crime & courts

Finney found guilty in Pizza X shooting


James D. Finney Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

After six and a half hours of deliberation, the jury had returned to the courtroom to issue their verdict.

It was a case that had grabbed headlines and kept Bloomingtonians looking over their shoulders at night while the suspect was still at large. The shooting gave Finney the moniker of “the Pizza X Shooter.”

Monday evening, Finney, 23, was convicted of murder and two other felony counts of carrying a handgun. Finney had a prior conviction of felony intimidation, which raised two misdemeanor charges of carrying a handgun to felonies. His sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 6.

Two years after the shot was fired outside Pizza X, a jury ruled Finney had killed Adam Sarnecki, 22, after returning from delivering a pizza.

* * *

A string of nighttime shootings near campus — along with a deadly apartment fire and the all-too-recent memory of Lauren Spierer’s disappearance — had Bloomington on edge in late 2011.

Police knew a .380 handgun was used in the robbery of a Smoke-N-Lotto store in rural Monroe County and was used to shoot a 60-year-old woman walking her dog, but both cases were unsolved in the early days of November.

Seconds after midnight on the morning of Nov. 4, 2011, Adam Sarnecki burst through the north employee’s entrance of the Pizza X location on South Walnut Street Pike.
He’d been shot, he told other Pizza X employees on shift that night. They took him behind the front counter of the building, applied a clean cloth to his wound and called 911.

The dispatcher asked what had happened.

Sarnecki had pulled his Honda Civic behind the building, like he always did, and in the illumination of his headlights saw a man trying to break into a tan Ford Crown Victoria.
He got out of the car and chased the man behind a storage unit next door, near a wooded hollow in back of Pizza X. Then Sarnecki was shot in his lower back.

When Bloomington Police Officer Jeff Rees arrived at Pizza X, Sarnecki was already bleeding internally. He was in pain, Rees testified last Tuesday, but he was able to provide a description of the man who shot him.

He was five-foot-ten, Sarnecki said. The shooter had hair on his chin and wore a brown hoodie over his head. Rees asked him how many times the man had fired.
“The gun jammed,” Sarnecki kept saying. “The gun jammed.”

An ambulance arrived, rushing Sarnecki to the hospital. After several hours in the operating room, Sarnecki was pronounced dead at 4:40 a.m. There were no suspects.

* * *

Finney was arrested three days later. He had a fresh teardrop tattoo below his eye, a sign for having killed someone.

Hours after the shooting, Finney told a confidential police informant he wanted to get rid of a gun. When the informant tried to buy the gun under police surveillance, Finney refused. He later said he wanted to drop it in the lake.

“I can’t let you walk with that gun because there’s a body on it,” he told her. “A girl like you will get caught with it. You’ve got kids. I can’t blame you for telling where you got it.”

A search warrant was executed for his trailer at 4212 Lilac Lane in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, where the gun was found and Finney was taken into custody.
He plead not guilty to the murder in a Monroe County courtroom two days later.

Finney was appointed a public defender, Michael Spencer, who entered an insanity plea on Finney’s behalf in September 2012. That plea was withdrawn two weeks ago as the case geared up for trial.

In the first day of testimony, jurors saw a grainy video from a security camera on the building next door to Pizza X. The video lasts about a minute and shows a shadowy figure approach the passenger door of the Crown Victoria.

Then, the screen is lit with the headlights of Sarnecki’s Honda coming around the Pizza X building. The jury saw two figures run past the headlights. Just a few seconds later, a single form runs back, opens the door to the Pizza X building and runs inside.
Thursday, the jury saw video of a police interview with Finney. At first, he denied shooting Sarnecki, but later he changed his story.

“I got scared and I’m not trying to go to jail, man,” he said. “The right thing and the best thing ain’t the same, you know?”

“I feel like a piece of shit, you know?”

* * *

After the prosecution rested Thursday afternoon, Spencer made a motion to have the jury consider the lesser charge of manslaughter — as opposed to murder — in their deliberations.

He said the confession video proved his client was scared that night. Sarnecki ran at him, chased him, cornered him, Spencer said. His client felt threatened and acted out of “sudden heat.”

“James didn’t know what Sarnecki was going to do,” Spencer said.

Prosecutors fought back, saying Finney created the situation of fear by going to break into the Crown Victoria to begin with.

Judge Marc Kellams allowed voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide and criminal recklessness as possible charges within the definition of sudden heat.

Friday morning, Kellams asked Finney’s lawyers if he would be testifying, as they had not made plans to call a single witness on his behalf.

Finney declined.

Spencer asked Finney in open court how he thought the trial was going.
“Could be better,” Finney said.

“Could be better, but facts are facts, right?” Spencer said.

When the jury came back into the courtroom to hear evidence, the judge explained that because the prosecution had rested its case, it would now be the defense’s turn to build a case.

“Thank you, your honor,” Spencer said. “At this time, the defense rests.”

The jury was released for the weekend without hearing a word of evidence from Finney’s defense team.

* * *

Finney wore the same suit he had throughout the trial  as closing arguments began Monday morning.

Prosecutor Jeff Kehr reminded jurors that Finney admitted to shooting Sarnecki during the police interview and showed little remorse.

“Adam unwittingly got into Finney’s business,” Kehr said. “I don’t think there’s any argument that James David Finney did it.”

Spencer, Finney’s lawyer, painted a different picture of that night. It was dark and wet, he said, and Finney was just out to break into cars. He said Finney never had any intent to kill anyone, and therefore couldn’t be guilty of murder.

“This is not a murder case,” Spencer said. “At that moment, full of terror, full of fear, James pulls his gun.”

As the jury deliberated into Monday evening, Tiffany Josh, Sarnecki’s fiancée, and Chelsea Sarnecki, his sister, talked about Adam in the courtroom. At first, Josh said, Adam’s loss was nearly unbearable.

“I kept thinking he’s on a long vacation and was going to come back,” Josh said.

They watched videos and looked at photos of Sarnecki and Josh’s 2-year-old son Gabriel, who was three months old when his father was killed. Gabe can recognize his face on the tattoo that reads “IN LOVING MEMORY” on Josh’s back.

Before the jury re-entered the courtroom, Judge Kellams told spectators to keep their reactions masked while the verdict was read. But after the judge said “guilty,” Josh couldn’t keep it in.

She gasped and sobbed in the courtroom, audibly at first, then softly. Josh followed the jury out and wept in the hall as her fiancé’s killer sat stone-faced.

Later, leaving the justice center, Josh said she was relieved. She had her children to attend to, a boyfriend to go see.

“It was nerve-racking there for the last few hours,” she said on the steps of the justice center. “Got to go home and take care of my babies.”

Follow Charles Scudder on Twitter @cscudder.

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