Several competing stories were told about the circumstances under which Dusan Melic, a twenty-year old Croatian-immigrant steelworker, shot and killed Andrew J. Kelly in East Pittsburgh on Sunday evening, October 4, 1903.
Most likely is that Melic and his companion, Mary Lugan, were walking home from a party when Lugan screamed, though not in fright. Kelly, a former police officer who had been dismissed from the force and was working as a private watchman, responded by running at Melic with his gun drawn. Melic shot Kelly, who died at the scene.
Kelly, a native of Indiana County, was not in uniform and Melic claimed he did not know he was a security officer. He also claimed Kelly shot first.
Melic and Lugan, 18, were dating. Melic boarded in her family’s home.
After the shooting, Melic was apprehended by police. He confessed, claiming he acted in self-defense. In addition to arresting Melic, approximately 50 other “foreigners” living in area boarding houses were arrested as part of an anti-immigrant dragnet.
At trial, Melic’s claim of self-defense was rejected and he was found guilty of first-degree murder on Christmas Day, 1903, the first time a county jury met on that day.
In February 1904, Melic’s brother, Nicholas, committed assault with intent to kill so that he could be arrested in an effort to be executed with his brother.
Melic’s death sentence was commuted to life by the Board of Pardons on December 21, 1904. Police officers supported the commutation, saying the case was appropriately manslaughter. Dusan Melic was pardoned on March 18, 1915, and released from prison.
In a tragic addendum to the case, Mary Lugan died of burns sustained in a household accident on March 27, 1904.
In other versions of the case, Melic is said to have attacked, raped, or threatened to kill Lugan and Kelly is said to have been a uniformed police officer.