The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 17, 2013

DNA testing links suspect

Defense next up; Basilone jury may get case today

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

MERCER — Pictures of seven gunshot wounds on William Basilone's body that were taken during his autopsy were viewed by a jury Monday, as prosecutors laid bare the brutal details of scientific evidence gathered in the trial of one of the men accused in the Farrell bar owner's Dec. 30, 2011, murder.

Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems wrapped up his case by late afternoon and Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John told jurors to anticipate getting the case sometime today after the defense presents its case, closing arguments are made, and St. John reviews the points of law with the jury, which is charged with deciding the fate of Joshua Stewart.

Stewart, 20, is charged with first-, second- and third degree murder, along with two counts each of robbery and conspiracy in Basilone’s slaying. An alleged co-conspirator, Devine Campbell, 19, faces the same charges and will be tried separately.

Stewart is alleged to be the triggerman who killed Basilone.

Mahoning County Deputy Coroner Dr. Joseph Ohr, described the seven gunshot wounds he examined on Basilone's body.

Four of the shots in themselves could have been fatal, Ohr said. Basilone was shot four times in the back, once in the left shoulder, once in the right thigh, and once in the right elbow, Ohr said.

One of the bullets from a shot in the back went through a rib, the right lung and liver, then hit the vena cava before piercing Basilone's heart, Ohr said.

“This is clearly a fatal wound,” he said, noting that the vena cava is the “main vein” that returns blood to the heart.

The other shots to the back included one that went through Basilone's spleen and stomach before lodging near his throat, another that also pierced the right lung, and one that chipped his spinal column, Ohr said.

The shot to his right thigh ended up damaging Basilone's colon, and though not immediately fatal, it could also have caused death, Ohr said.

The wounds to the left shoulder and right elbow weren’t fatal, Ohr said.

Forensic DNA scientist Laura Brown also testified Monday.

Brown, who works at a state police crime lab in Greensburg, compared DNA samples from Stewart and Campbell with a sample taken from a gray Champion hoodie alleged to have been worn by Stewart during the shooting.

Stewart’s DNA matched that found on the hoodie, Brown testified.

DNA from Tylor Kalenic, who’s alleged to be a co-conspirator in the case who said he backed out before the shooting, didn’t match samples from the same hoodie, Brown said.

After a break for lunch, the jury spent most of the afternoon listening to the testimony of a man who spent last August as a  “listening post” for the government in the case.

He’s been identified in previous coverage of the case, but prosecutors requested his name be withheld because both he and his family have been threatened with violence because of his cooperation.

He is in state prison in Erie County awaiting trial on sexual assault charges in Mercer County and is cooperating with prosecutors, who have promised to mention his cooperation to the judge who hears his case.

The man, who’s spent much of his adult life behind bars, is known as a “jailhouse lawyer” he admitted under cross-examination by James Goodwin, who is defending Stewart in the case.

“Also a jailhouse snitch,” Goodwin said.

“If that’s what you want to call it,” he said.

He was Stewart’s cellmate for a time last summer and exchanged notes with the younger man as he attempted to dispense amateur legal advice.

“In the beginning, when he (Stewart) was discussing the case, it was all over the place and it was confusing,” the informant said.

Eventually, Stewart shared a story in handwritten notes he exchanged with the informant so the subject of the conversation wouldn’t be overheard by other jail inmates.

In those notes, Stewart claimed it was Kalenic who wanted to “hit a lick” - commit a robbery - that night to raise enough cash to rent a hotel room where he, Stewart and Campbell could entertain the Vincent sisters of Greenville, Cierra and Olivia, who are now 21 and 17, respectively.

Cierra Vincent testified last week that she and her sister hung out with the boys that night. She also picked up Stewart, Campbell and Kalenic after the shooting and dropped them off - Stewart and Campbell at Stewart’s house just a few blocks from Basilone’s and Kalenic at a house in Sharon, she said.

The version of events Stewart is alleged to have given the informant goes on to explain how the trio cased two other Roemer Boulevard bars before deciding to rob Basilone’s.

It was Stewart who wanted to back out of the robbery, he told the informant.

Stewart said he gave Kalenic his gray Champion hoodie and that Kalenic ended up shooting Basilone, the informant testified Stewart initially said.

“Later on is when he told me the real story,” the informant said.

“I feel bad for the guy (Basilone) and his family. I have trouble sleeping and have nightmares,” Stewart is alleged to have written in the notes.

The informant turned those notes over to authorities.

“Evidence shows you murdered that man in cold blood,” the informant wrote to Stewart.

He told Stewart the story he (Stewart) was telling didn’t add up.

“He said exactly what happened in that letter, except for it was me (Stewart instead of Kalenic),” the informant said.

Stewart also detailed to the informant a plan he and Campbell hatched to try to secure alibi witnesses for that night.

The informant said Stewart told him that he and Campbell talked their respective brothers into trying to “romance the girls (the Vincents) and get them pregnant” so they could be persuaded to provide them alibis.

The girls, or at least one of them, ended up testifying for the prosecution in the case. They did, however, each give birth to babies, one fathered by Eric Stewart and the other by Dre Campbell, Cierra Vincent testified last week.

The informant denied any benefits he’s received for his cooperation, like visits with his family because they’ve tagged along with investigators as they obtained the information he provided and said he’s been made a mark at the prison.

“They’re saying, there’s that guy, he’s the snitch,” he said.

He also fears for the safety of his family because of newspaper accounts of his cooperation, he said.

Kochems completed the commonwealth’s case Monday afternoon.

St. John advised the jury to come to court today prepared to be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

“You could get this case shortly after lunch,” he told the jurors.

“You still are missing the biggest piece,” he said, referring to closing arguments in the case and St. John’s advice on the points of law to be considered.

The trial should resume about 9:30 a.m. today.