By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
A district judge dismissed charges that Devine A. Campbell, who is charged with being an accomplice in the shooting death of William “Bill” Basilone Jr., was the lookout man for a robbery at the Wild Game Inn in Farrell, but held for court a case that Campbell shot the owner of B&M Market in the city during a robbery.
Campbell, 18, formerly of Farrell, was cleared of charges of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Southwest Mercer County Regional police tried to connect Campbell to the Wild Game robbery trough Facebook posts between him and Joshua L. Stewart, 19, the alleged shooter in the Basilone case and alleged gunman in the Wild Game Inn robbery.
However, District Judge Ronald E. Antos, Farrell, suppressed evidence of Stewart’s alleged posts, determining they are hearsay. Without those posts, police had no witness identification of Campbell as the lookout or physical evidence tying him to the crime.
“You can infer but I don’t think you’ve met your burden,” Antos told prosecutors Tuesday.
Prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proof for a prima facie case, in which prosecutors must be able to show that a crime occurred and the defendant might have been involved.
Antos in February 2012 held for court charges against Stewart in connection with the Wild Game Inn robbery, which occurred at 7:52 p.m. Dec. 28, 2011, at 1101 Roemer Blvd. Ross Carlo, a bar patron, reiterated his testimony from the Stewart preliminary hearing that two men, their noses and mouths covered, entered the bar, one with a gun, and demanded money. Carlo eventually threw $43 at the gunman and a bartender handed over $30.
Carlo testified at Stewart’s hearing that he was shown a photographic lineup by police, identified two men as being close to the gunman, and ultimately picked a man who was in a Philadelphia jail at the time. Stewart’s photo was the other one.
Carlo testified Tuesday that he was never asked to identify Campbell from a lineup.
Police also testified at Stewart’s hearing that they followed two sets of shoe prints in the snow and one was followed to within 30 feet of Stewart’s home before it was lost in hundreds of other prints.
Police later seized a pair of sneakers from Stewart’s home that matched in size and tread design one of the pairs in the snow.
Police also obtained a search warrant for Stewart’s and Campbell’s Facebook accounts and keyed in on posts from Dec. 26, 2011, in which Campbell supposedly wrote to Stewart that he was “tryn do ‘dat s---” and later says, “7up ... after5,” which police believe is a reference to the Wild Game Inn because it has a large 7up sign out front of the bar.
Campbell’s attorney, J. Jarrett K. Whalen, called the Facebook evidence “at best vague,” and noted the posts were made two days before the robbery.
Assistant Mercer County District Attorney Lauren Hackett called the two-day time lag irrelevant and said Campbell and Stewart are charged in a series of violent episodes on Roemer within a short period of time with similar descriptions of the participants in each case.
“It shows that there is some sort of corroboration of collaboration,” she said.
Whalen said prosecutors had made out a prima facie case in the B&M Market robbery, in which owner Basil Ramahi was shot in the hip.
Ramahi was in the store alone at about 7:15 p.m. Dec. 20, 2011, at 644 Wallis Avenue, when two men with their faces covered entered the store, one of them holding a gun and firing two rounds, he testified.
The gunman then demanded money. Ramahi said he got about $200 from the cash register and handed it over, then the gunman shot him.
The .22-caliber bullet still is lodged in his hip, and he has recurring pain and sleeplessness, he said.
Although the men’s’ noses and mouths were covered, Ramahi said he recognized the gunman as someone who came into the store frequently, and he easily identified him as Campbell in a photo lineup that police showed him in April 2012.
“From the eyes, I can tell 100 percent who the guy is,” Ramahi testified.
Police Capt. Douglas R. Long said police recently received a report from the state police crime lab that states the three shell casings found in B&M were fired by the same gun that fired the nine casings found at the Basilone murder scene.
Antos held for court charges of aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Both men also face charges in a Sharon robbery.