By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
When Devine Antonio Campbell shows up for court this morning, charges of robbery, aggravated assault and conspiracy may be withdrawn.
But it won’t be the end of Campbell’s legal troubles.
Campbell, who turns 20 on Saturday, has been in Mercer County Jail for more than a year as he’s been held to answer to charges for crimes he and Joshua Lee Stewart are accused of committing in December 2011.
The most serious of the charges the pair face are first- and second-degree murder stemming from the Dec. 30, 2011, killing of Farrell bar owner William “Bill” Basilone Jr.
Stewart, who turned 20 last Thursday, is alleged to be the gunman in that case and Campbell was at his side, prosecutors say.
They are awaiting separate trials on those charges, which may be heard in September.
That’s also when federal prosecutors may know if an indictment against Campbell, and potentially Stewart, is handed down by a federal grand jury in connection with the case Campbell is in court for today.
That’s the Dec. 20, 2011, robbery of Basil Ramahi at his B&M Market, 644 Wallis Ave., Farrell.
Stewart hasn’t been charged in that case, but the robbery, aggravated assault and conspiracy charges Campbell faces are in connection with that incident.
Ramahi told police two men with covered faces entered the store with a handgun, yelled at him and demanded money. The unarmed man, who hasn’t been identified, went around the counter and took $100 from Ramahi and several packs of cigarettes while Campbell held Ramahi at gunpoint, police said.
“We are waiting to hear whether or not there is a federal prosecution in that case,” Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said.
The feds had offered up help after a surge in gun crimes including the Basilone shooting, Kochems said.
“The federal process is separate and secret from ours,” Kochems said.
But in preparing for Campbell’s trial on the B&M incident, which is slated to begin today, county prosecutors learned some of their witnesses had been taken to Pittsburgh to testify before a federal grand jury.
It’s been past practice for Mercer County prosecutors to defer to the feds because federal penalties are stiffer, Kochems said.
“I would prefer to take the chance of the federal prosecution,” Kochems said.
That’s why he intends to ask Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John for a continuance today in Campbell’s B&M case.
Last week, the judge denied a written request for the continuance, but Kochems said he plans to state his case today in court.
If it’s again denied, he intends to ask those charges be dismissed with prejudice, meaning they won’t be refiled, even if the feds don’t indict Campbell, Kochems said.
“We think it’s worth doing,” he said.
Campbell’s lawyer, J. Jarrett K. Whalen, said he’s prepared to argue the case at trial.
“We’re ready to go; it’s a fairly straight-forward case,” Whalen said.
That said, the sum of the cases against Campbell and Stewart are anything but straight-forward.
In June, Campbell was sentenced to 3 to 18 months for simple assault and 6 months probation for theft in connection with an attack on another inmate at Mercer County Jail.
A month earlier, on May 16, Campbell was acquitted of two gun charges, making terroristic threats and simple assault, in connection with a Dec. 18, 2011, incident on East Budd Street in Sharon.
In that case, a Sharon woman was terrorized by a young man who pulled a gun on her after tossing a half-eaten stromboli at her when she was walking home from work.
Campbell wasn’t that man, a jury said when they rendered a not-guilty verdict.
A week after that trial, on May 21, Stewart was found guilty of two counts of robbery and a charge of making terroristic threats for the Dec. 29 robbery of a Sharon man outside his King Street home.
These cases have come to court even as defense attorneys and prosecutors prepare for the trials of the men in connection with Basilone’s murder.
There have been three court appearances where a plea deal appeared to be reached on the murder charges that ultimately fell apart, spurring Mercer County Common Pleas Court President Judge Thomas R. Dobson to order on Aug. 2 that no pleas will be accepted other than second-degree murder with life imprisonment and that plea must be entered before Dobson, according to a court filing on Aug. 5.
That’s fair, Whalen said.
“You have to feel bad for the family (Basilone’s). They keep being dragged into court for no reason,” Whalen said.