By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer
The trial of the alleged triggerman in the Dec. 30, 2011, slaying of popular Farrell bar owner William Basilone Jr. got under way Thursday, almost 21 months after the crime.
Twenty-year-old Joshua Stewart was 19 when the crime occurred and lived just a few blocks west up Roemer Boulevard from the family-oriented restaurant and bar.
Stewart faces charges of first-, second- and third-degree murder and two counts each of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery for the crime. A co-conspirator in the case, Devine Campbell, 19, also of Farrell, faces the same charges as Stewart and will be tried separately.
On Thursday, Stewart wore an open-collared, long-sleeved white shirt and gray slacks without a belt for his appearance before the jury.
Behind him, about 20 of Basilone’s friends and family members watched as Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems and his assistant Lauren Hackett laid out the first part of their case in cold, grim, emotionless detail.
They entered the death certificate listing the cause of Basilone’s death as a homicide that resulted from several gunshot wounds.
They called the police detective who led the probe into the killing along with four witnesses who could speak to what happened at about 11:30 that night.
They played dark, pixilated surveillance camera footage from inside and outside Basilone’s that also showed bits and pieces of what happened.
Aside from a computer glitch at lunch time, all went as Kochems said it would in his opening argument, which was less an impassioned plea for justice and more a roadmap to let jurors know what to expect during the trial:
Kochems told jurors they will hear from the lead detective in the case, Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Sgt. Andrew Thomas, who testified later Thursday.
They’ll watch surveillance video footage from cameras outside Basilone’s leading up to the slaying, Kochems said, and hear from patrons inside the bar and two witnesses who saw the shooting from a distance.
They’ll also get inside information from a teen, Tylor Kalenic, who hasn’t been charged with a crime but was with Stewart and Campbell prior to the killing.
“Kalenic will tell you they’re hanging out, waiting for people to come out of the bar. But Kalenic gets cold feet. He leaves,” Kochems said.
Authorities allege Stewart and Campbell ran to Kalenic’s house just north of the bar after the shooting.
They’ll also hear from a Greenville-area teen, Cierra Vincent, who was trying to hang out with the trio at various times that night and who ended up picking them up at Kalenic’s house after the shooting and dropping them off at different places in Farrell, Kochems said.
Prosecutors will also call Cedric Boyd, whom to use street language is serving as a “jailhouse snitch” for authorities.
“Mr. Boyd is a pretty bad guy,” Kochems said.
Boyd will testify that Stewart admitted to killing Basilone to him in the time since Stewart has been in Mercer County Jail, where Boyd is serving a sentence on unrelated charges.
“Basically, that’s the commonwealth’s case,” Kochems said. “Pay attention to what you’re seeing and what you’re viewing.”
James Goodwin, the court-appointed defense counsel for Stewart, didn’t dispute the terrifying details surrounding Basilone’s death in his opening.
“On Dec. 30, 2011, William Basilone had locked the doors to his bar,” Goodwin said.
After a period of time, Basilone went outside and was “tragically gunned down” on the sidewalk, Goodwin said.
As he lay dying, his pockets were full of money and his jewelry was left untouched, Goodwin said.
“Josh Stewart lives in the neighborhood. He walks past it (the bar), he even orders food from it,” Goodwin said.
But that night, Stewart didn’t kill Basilone, he said.
The prosecution will use the testimony of “two corrupt and polluted sources” to tie Stewart to the crime, Goodwin said.
“One who from (the words of) his own mouth should be sitting before you,” Goodwin said, referring to Kalenic, who hasn’t been charged with a crime but who is alleged to have been with Stewart and Campbell that night.
Kalenic accepted immunity in exchange for his testimony. His exact age hasn’t been released, but he is a minor and has since moved from the area.
Goodwin called Boyd “a man who knows how to manipulate the system for personal gain with no regard for the truth.”
The testimony began with Thomas, who was called to Basilone’s that night to investigate the killing that happened about a half-hour after he got off duty.
Thomas helped secure the scene and then, over the course of the investigation in the weeks and months that followed, compiled video surveillance footage prosecutors played several times Thursday.
That footage shows three people prosecutors contend are Stewart, Campbell and Kalenic, walking past the bar earlier that night. It also shows a teen alleged to be Kalenic entering Basilone’s at one point alone and then it shows someone wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers hoodie that is similar to one police collected from Stewart also entering the bar and leaving without buying anything.
It shows the trio alleged to be Campbell, Kalenic and Stewart walking down Roemer Boulevard and encountering a man named Tyree Sanders, whom prosecutors also plan to call as a witness.
It also shows Basilone inside his bar, with his longtime girlfriend and another regular bar patron, as they were closing up for the night.
At about 11:30 p.m., Basilone goes outside and is out of the camera’s eye when he was shot, although as his body falls face-first to the sidewalk, it can be partially observed in the footage, which is dark and becomes pixilated when it’s enlarged.
Basilone’s family gasped and cried as the footage showing the shooting was played three times in court on Thursday.
Two witnesses who saw parts of the shooting from a distance also testified. Prosecutors asked their names be withheld for their safety. Each testified to hearing what they initially thought were fireworks that turned out to be gunshots.
They saw, but were unable to indentify, a man wearing a light-colored hoodie shoot another man in the back, then stand over him and shoot some more, each said.
Both called 911 and those frenzied calls were played for the jury.
Kochems also admitted boxloads of physical evidence including two hooded sweatshirts, a pair of sneakers, a distinctive “D-ring” keychain with a Rite-Aid wellness card that prosecutors allege can be seen beneath the hoodie on the man in the video footage that they allege to be Stewart.
He also introduced a stack of pictures of the crime scene, others taken from Stewart’s cellular phone and others that were posted on the social media site Facebook.
The day ended at 4:10 p.m. and the trial will resume about 9:30 a.m. today.
Prosecutors expect it to take until at least Tuesday to present their case, Kochems said.