The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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September 27, 2013

Stewart gets 2 life sentences for murder

Judge: No mercy from this court

FARRELL — It took about a minute for William Basilone Jr. to be gunned down Dec. 30, 2011, outside his Farrell bar.

It took about two hours for a jury to convict Joshua Stewart on murder, robbery and conspiracy charges for killing the Farrell bar owner.

It took Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John about an hour Thursday to hand down concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole on the first- and second-degree murder charges.

The Basilone family hopes that Thursday is the last time they’ll have to concern themselves with Stewart.

Twenty-one family members attended the sentencing and three spoke before the judge imposed it. Eleven others wrote letters to the court detailing the good that Basilone did and the effects the crime has had on his family.

They’ve been suffering from this “senseless tragedy,” Basilone’s sister, Mary Jo Depreta said.

She longed to see her brother again, to smell his cologne, to hear his voice, she said.

“I will miss those Thursday (family) dinners at the bar,” she said.

“Josh Stewart ripped Bill away from us. He (her brother) was not just an object to be broken or stolen,” she said.

She noted that Stewart has shown no remorse for the crime, but said the young man “can’t take away all the good Bill did while here on earth.”

“As of this day, I will no longer think about Josh Stewart,” she said.

Basilone’s companion, Margy Burger also spoke to the court.

Dealing with his death has consumed her, she said, adding that putting together a statement for the court was the toughest thing she ever did.

“Every morning when I wake up, I remember I no longer have my best friend to share life with,” Burger said.

She compared the last 19 months to swimming and being unable to reach shore.

“We have been emotionally, mentally and physically crushed by this tragedy,” she said.

Those sentiments and a score of others were reiterated in the letters St. John received, he told Stewart.

“I want you to know and I hope you do know the consequences of what people do don’t stop once the act is committed,” St. John said.

Those consequences in this case were described by the adjectives that were used in the letters: Anguish. Torment. Flashbacks. Pain. Nightmares. Loneliness. Crushed.

Left unsaid because of his death was the experience Basilone had that night outside the bar, “as you pretty much emptied your gun in him,” St. John said.

“Clearly you’ve brought all this upon yourself and you have only yourself to blame,” St. John said. “I would note I’ve seen you show no mercy and will get no mercy from the court.”

The judge gave Stewart several chances to speak, but he refused.

Stewart wouldn’t admit to being at the bar that night and didn’t say anything to the family.

“Do you have any religious affiliation at all?” St. John asked.

Stewart said he was raised Christian and converted to Muslim, and has received letters from his grandmother that include Bible verses.

“I’m a Muslim, but my grandma has never steered me wrong,” Stewart said. “That’s something I’m going to have to seek some more on, but I definitely believe in God.”

Stewart denied he is the bad man people make him out to be.

“Everybody wants to say this and that, but I don’t see it,” Stewart said. “I don’t see this bad guy. If I wanted to, I could have numerous people come to talk (on his behalf).

“I’m not even claiming I did it. I understand I was convicted. I accept it.”

He refused to say anything further about the crime.

The judge also sentenced Stewart, 20, to an additional 30 to 60 years behind bars to be served consecutively to the life sentences to reflect the gravity of the crimes he committed in November and December 2011.

That includes 10 to 20 years on a robbery charge for the attempted robbery of Basilone that night and 10 to 20 years on a charge of conspiracy to commit that robbery.

Authorities allege Stewart and Devine Campbell, 19, acted together that night on a plan to rob Basilone’s bar.

Campbell faces the same charges and is awaiting trial.

Stewart was also previously sentenced by St. John to 10-to-20 years for the Dec. 29, 2011, robbery of Joe Moss outside his Sharon home that was part of a crime spree in Sharon and Farrell in the latter part of 2011. Stewart and Campbell are suspected of carrying out that spree.

Stewart was also sentenced to 57 months to 20 years for the robbery of Basilone’s bar and 45 months to 20 years for conspiring to rob the bar.

Those sentences will be served concurrently to the others, St. John ruled.

In light of the penalties already lodged against Stewart, Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems withdrew charges from a Dec. 28, 2011, robbery at the Wild Game Inn, also in Farrell.

Prosecuting that case would be a waste of the court’s time, the DA maintained.

Stewart is also under federal indictment for participating in the Dec. 20, 2011, robbery and shooting at B&M Market in Farrell.

That indictment charges Stewart, formerly of Farrell, with robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery under the Hobbs Act, a law enacted to allow federal jurisdiction over such cases when the incident affects interstate or foreign commerce. However, courts have ruled that the effect on commerce can be minimal to support a Hobbs Act prosecution, according to the U.S. Department of Justice website.

The Hobbs Act often is used in prosecuting public and labor union corruption, commercial disputes, organized crime, gang activity or wide-ranging schemes.

Stewart also was charged with using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.

The penalties for robbery and conspiracy are up to 20 years each, and the gun charge carries a sentence of 10 years to life with the stipulation that the sentence be served consecutively to the other counts.

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