ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The testimony told the prosecution's story:
Four men kept trying to get into the North End Republican Club in Allentown just before its 3 a.m. closing time, but the security guard refused to let them in because they were not members, and he apparently had problems with them the previous night.
They argued, threats were made, there may even have been some shoving.
Finally, the men did manage to get inside when the guard opened the door to let another person enter, but they turned and headed back out the door when that guard, identified by witnesses as Andrew Gesslein, backed up, drew his handgun and fired three shots, killing one of the men.
That was the account of prosecution witnesses at a preliminary hearing Friday before Lehigh County District Judge Donna Butler.
Now Gesslein, 42, of Tilden Twp., Berks Co., faces trial on voluntary manslaughter charges for the death of Michael Randolph. Butler determined there was enough evidence against Gesslein for the case to go to trial, which she said will begin August 17. Gesslein is free on bail.
Located at 8th and Tilghman streets, the North End Republican Club is a bar that operates as an after-hours club, testified Allentown police Sgt. Alicia Conjour.
"It's supposed to be a private club for members only. Instead of closing at 2 a.m. like the rest of the bars, it's open until 3," Conjour said.
Witnesses explained those entering the club through the rear door have to gain admittance from a security guard, show their ID, pay, sign in and be searched for weapons by another guard with a metal-detecting wand.
The three unidentified men who were trying to get into the club with Randolph did not testify Friday. Gesslein was at the hearing but also did not testify, nor did any other defense witnesses.
When arrested, Gesslein told police he would not let Randolph, 23, and his friends into the club because he believed they were involved in an altercation the night before, testified Detective Timothy Salgado of the Lehigh County district attorney's office.
Salgado said what Gesslein described as "a junior riot" had occurred outside the club at closing time on April 28. Salgado said Gesslein also was working at that club that night and called police to quell the large and tumultuous group outside the club.
On April 29, Gesslein told investigators, the men threatened to beat and kill him and tried to force their way into the club by pulling the door out of his hand. Gesslein also told police Randolph grabbed his right arm and someone else grabbed his fleece jacket.
"He believed they were trying to pull him out of the club," said Salgado.
Gesslein said he was able to break free, step back 10 to 12 feet and draw his firearm to defend himself.
Gesslein told police Randolph and his three friends ran back outside, but claimed Randolph stopped on the step outside the door, turned to face him and reached into his pants, according to the testimony.
Police found no gun, knife or other weapon on the victim. Witnesses at the hearing also said they did not see any weapons on the victim or his companions.
Salgado said surveillance video has been recovered from a camera covering the club's rear entrance, but no cameras were inside the club.
Witness Lakera Kelley testified four people were arguing with Gesslein outside the club entrance when she arrived to go in around 3 a.m.
They were yelling back and forth, she said, with Gesslein telling them they could not go in, the people asking why and Gesslein saying, "because I said so."
Kelley said one woman told Gesslein "you put us out last night and told us to come back again today and now we're here and you're not letting us in."
Kelley testified Gesslein and the people he was arguing with were saying such things as "I'm not scared of you," "we could fight," "I'll beat your [expletive]" and "I'll shoot you."
Kelley said Gesslein did let her into the club while the argument was going on.
Miguel Gomes, who is not a member of the club, testified Gesslein also gave him a hard time when he tried to get in about 2:45 a.m.
"He was very rude in the beginning: 'If you're not a member, you can't get in'," said Gomes.
Gomes said Randolph was right next to him, arguing with Gesslein.
He said the men who had been denied entrance by Gesslein were upset and saying "we should [expletive] him up."
Gomes testified Randolph specifically said: "We should [expletive] him up for not letting me in the club."
He said Gesslein replied: "'Yeah, whatever, try.' It was a back and forth thing." He added Gesslein also said: "I'm just doing my job."
He said when Gesslein closed the door, the men outside kept knocking on it.
Witness Anthony Jones was seated at a table near the rear entrance of the club, when he heard a man named Bob, who was signing people in at the door, start yelling.
"I heard a ruckus going on. They started tussling," said Jones. He testified he did not see the tussle, but heard it.
Gomes said when Gesslein finally relented and let Gomes into the club, Randolph grabbed the door and walked in right behind Gomes, with his friends.
Gomes said Randolph took off his hat and said: "I told you I was going to get in."
Gomes said Gesslein took about four steps back and drew his gun. "They ran out the door and he shot."
Jones testified Gesslein backed up, yelled "either get back or get out" and pulled out his gun.
"The three people were running toward the door. And he fired his weapon."
Gomes said he looked at Gesslein and said "Wow! You didn't have to do that." He said Gesslein replied: "I know what I'm doing."
Jones saw Randolph fall outside as the door closed. Jones testified he asked Gesslein if "he was just going to let the man lay out there. He pretty much said, 'What do you want me to do? He was reaching.' I asked him, 'What does that have to do with getting help for him?'"
Explaining "reaching," Jones testified Gesslein thought Randolph had a gun and was reaching for it, but Jones said he saw no one reach for a gun.
"They were running for the door and looking back, looking at the defendant."
While a couple of witnesses testified it took police between five and 15 minutes to arrive – and even longer for the ambulance to get there – Sgt.Conjour said it only took her a minute or two to get to the club after she was advised about the shooting. She said one or two police officers already were there, adding a total of 14 officers soon responded to the shooting.
A large crowd of at least 50 people was in the rear parking lot when Conjour arrived.
"They were all hostile towards us. Nobody wanted to cooperate with us."
Conjour saw a male was lying on the asphalt at the bottom of the stairs outside the club's rear entrance. Two women were performing CPR on him and "doing a good job."
Kelley testified she was inside the club when she heard three shots "right behind me." She ran outside to leave and saw Randolph. She checked to see if he was breathing and saw he still was alive. Kelley testified she is certified in CPR and first aid. She started doing CPR on the victim, continuing until the ambulance crew arrived and took over.
James Connell, Gesslein's lawyer, commended Kelley for trying to help Randolph, adding "a lot of people wouldn't do that."
Conjour said police moved the crowd back so the EMS team could get to Randolph, who was transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township.
The autopsy showed Randolph had been using marijuana. He died of multiple gunshot wounds. He was shot three times – in the back, abdomen and right thigh – with a .45-caliber firearm.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Lehigh Valley 69 News