By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
In the waning weeks of 2011, a crime spree culminated in the Dec. 30 killing of William “Billy” Basilone Jr. outside his Farrell bar.
Authorities contend the pair accused of killing Basilone – Joshua Stewart and Devine Campbell – also committed four armed robberies in Farrell and two robberies in Sharon between Nov. 29 and Dec. 30, 2011.
Campbell, who turns 19 today, and Stewart, 20, both lived in Farrell at the time of the crimes.
They’ve been in Mercer County Jail since January 2012 and Friday they were in Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John’s court to listen to reasons evidence in the robberies may be introduced as evidence in their separate upcoming trials in Basilone’s murder.
Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems let assistant district attorney Lauren Hackett lead the way in showing the judge how prosecutors plan to use the evidence in the other cases to tie the pair together and help prove their parts in the Basilone killing.
No one’s been charged in two of the cases, a Nov. 29, 2011, robbery of Dollar General in Farrell and a Dec. 19 robbery of Family Dollar just down the road in what’s left of the city’s commercial district.
Clerks who were working at each store testified Friday as to what happened during the robberies, but no one could specifically identify Stewart or Campbell as the robber.
The man who robbed the Dollar General clerk has “pretty” eyes, the clerk testified.
The rest of his face was covered when he came in and pointed a gun at her, she said.
But she remembered the eyes.
“He had really nice eyes. The shape of them,” she said.
She couldn’t say if the eyes were Stewart’s or Campbell’s.
A clerk who was on break at Family Dollar when it was robbed a few weeks later was able to run out the back door. She also remembered the robber as having “pretty eyes,” but couldn’t positively identify them.
There’s also a pair of shoes Stewart was wearing when he was arrested and another pair that was found in the trash during a search of the Roemer Boulevard apartment where he lived with his mother.
Those shoes appear to be “similar” to surveillance camera video outside Basilone’s that prosecutors intend to play for the jury.
The shoes also leave similar prints to those found outside the Wild Game Inn when it was robbed Dec. 28, 2011.
Stewart is facing charges in that case and Campbell had been charged as well, until District Judge Ronald E. Antos dismissed the charges against Campbell because the only link to Campbell was in posts the pair allegedly made on the social media site Facebook.
Those posts are hearsay, Antos ruled.
Whether the Facebook evidence – which fills a four-inch binder – will be admitted in the murder trial is another matter St. John will decide when he rules on how the evidence can be used.
The defense attorneys for the men – J. Jarrett K. Whalen and Dustin Cole for Campbell and James Goodwin Jr. and Autumn Johnson for Stewart – offered objections throughout the hearing that St. John said he will take under consideration when he makes a decision.
Prosecutors also want to introduce a ballistics report that links the seven shell casings found at the scene of Basilone’s with three shell casings found at the scene of another armed robbery, this one the Dec. 20, 2011, robbery of Basil Ramahi at B&M Market, 644 Wallis Ave., Farrell.
The ballistics report would bolster the credibility of a jailhouse informant that prosecutors admit is a “corrupt source,” according to Hackett.
But the source, Cedric Boyd, can offer testimony to bolster the cases against Stewart and Campbell, prosecutors contend.
Campbell was also in court Monday for a hearing in the B&M case.
It was delayed by Kochems’ appeal to Superior Court of St. John’s decision to deny Kochems’ request to continue that case or withdraw the charges because of a pending federal probe into the Shenango Valley’s gun problems.
Stewart hasn’t been charged, but is a suspect in that crime, authorities said.
The feds became involved in “late June,” said Kochems, when he asked for their help to address a general “gun problem” in the Shenango Valley that has resulted in a series of gun-related crimes.
Friday’s hearing was the latest in more than a year’s worth of hearings involving the duo.
The most serious of the charges the pair face are first- and second-degree murder stemming from the Basilone killing.
Stewart may be tried on those charges in September, and presumably Campbell would be tried after that, according to Whalen.