National News

Deaths of Forensic Psychiatrist and 2 Paralegals Are Said to be Linked

Posted June 3, 2018 12:44 a.m. EDT

The fatal shootings of two paralegals Friday in Scottsdale, Arizona, have been linked to the killing of Dr. Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist who was known for his work on high-profile cases like the JonBenét Ramsey investigation and who was shot only miles away less than a day earlier.

Pitt, 59, was shot dead as he was leaving his office building Thursday about 5:30 p.m., Sgt. Vincent Lewis, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said Saturday. His department released a sketch of a suspect the day after the killing.

Witnesses told police they had heard “a loud verbal argument and they heard shots,” Lewis said. Pitt was found “critically wounded” on a walkway outside his office building on North 71st Street, Lewis said,and pronounced dead at the scene by the Phoenix Fire Department.

Less than 24 hours later, Scottsdale patrol officers responded to a call at 2:15 p.m. Friday about a shooting about 10 miles from where Pitt was shot, the Scottsdale Police Department said.

When officers arrived, they found a woman with a gunshot wound to the head, police said in a statement. “The victim had walked to a bus parked in the intersection to ask for help,” the statement said. She was taken to a hospital, where she died.

The officers then “followed a blood trail” to a business on First Street, police said. Inside, they found a dead woman who had been shot in the head.

On Saturday, police identified the victims as Veleria Sharp, 48, and Laura Anderson, 49. Both women worked as paralegals at the law firm of Burt Feldman Grenier in Scottsdale, police said.

The double homicide occurred at the law office, police said, adding that there was a suspect, although they did not provide a name.

On Saturday, the Scottsdale Police Department announced in another statement: “Our investigation has determined that this double homicide is related to the shooting of Steven Pitt.”

The Scottsdale Police Department also announced it was investigating a fourth homicide in the area. The police responded to a call just after midnight Saturday about a shooting at a business midway between the other killings, said Sgt. Benjamin Hoster, a spokesman for the Scottsdale police.

The police did not know whether that shooting was related to the previous attacks, Hoster said. As of late Saturday, he said, the department had not confirmed the deceased man’s identity or occupation.

Lewis of the Phoenix police described the suspect in Pitt’s killing as a bald, white male wearing a dark-colored hat with a short brim, “kind of like a fedora.”

He said that the police had been receiving “continual” tips from the community but that no arrests had been made. Late Saturday, the authorities announced that the potential reward for tips leading to an arrest and conviction in the homicides had been increased to $21,000.

Lewis said he could not provide details about how the two crimes were connected or whether the same person was suspected of both crimes. Hoster said that although the department believes that the homicides are related, he could not offer details about the suspect or suspects. He also said the police had not determined whether there was a connection between the paralegals’ law firm and Pitt and his practice.

Pitt and his firm, Steven Pitt & Associates, frequently consulted with the Phoenix police Department, Lewis said, most notably in the recent case involving the so-called serial street shooter, in which a suspect is in jail awaiting trial.

Pitt served as a consultant on several well-known cases, including the JonBenét Ramsey homicide investigation, the Columbine High School massacre and the “Baseline Killer,” who was found guilty in Arizona of murdering nine people more than a decade ago.

When asked if Pitt’s killing could have been connected to his work, Lewis said investigators “haven’t ruled it out.”

“The verbal argument suggests they might have known each other,” he said. “Whether they knew each other personally or professionally, we’re looking into that.”

Lewis noted that it “was fairly uncommon” for Phoenix police to receive a call about a shooting in the area where Pitt was killed. Scottsdale police records show that only five homicides occurred in the department’s jurisdiction in 2017.

Erin Nelson, a senior associate at Pitt’s firm who had worked with him for 25 years, described him Saturday as “absolutely brilliant.”

“He was one of the very best at what he did,” she said. “He had an incredible capacity to understand human behavior.”

Forensic psychiatry requires caution, Nelson added.

“You know you have to be aware,” she said. “Certainly everyone in this field understands that when you have human behavior and human emotion involved, at times that results in dangerousness.”

The law firm Burt Feldman Grenier released a statement to The Arizona Republic in which it praised the two paralegals who were killed.

“Laura has worked with us as family for more than 10 years,” the statement said. “Her intellect, passion and friendship has meant more to us than we can even begin to convey.”

“Veleria was a treasured member of our work family,” the statement continued. “She brought joy, calmness, warmth and compassion to all that she did.”