The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 5, 2013

1st of 2 big trials set next week

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

---- — Next week, the first of two murder trials is set to begin to mete out justice for the Dec. 30, 2011, killing of William “Billy” Basilone Jr. outside his Farrell bar.

After a jury is seated in the trial of Joshua Stewart, the 20-year-old man authorities allege was the gunman that night as the now-19-year-old Devine Campbell stood by his side, they won’t be privy to evidence that the pair are alleged to be involved in a spree of other, similar crimes during those waning weeks of 2011.

Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. denied a motion to introduce those other crimes as part of the case against the men during their separate trials in the Basilone case.

“We are of course disappointed in the court’s ruling denying our motion, Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems wrote in an email seeking comment on the decision.

Prosecutors “are not currently planning on appealing the denial,” Kochems wrote.

Stewart’s attorney, James Goodwin Jr., declined comment on the decision, which the judge wrote he arrived at after “careful consideration.”

J. Jarrett K. Whalen, who will defend Campbell in a separate trial to be held after Stewart’s concludes, said the judge arrived at the “right decision.”

“We had to make a chart to understand it,” Whalen said of the prosecutions theory that several crimes were linked to the men.

The decision means the men will each get a “fair trial,” Whalen said.

“It makes the murder about the murder,” he said.

Authorities contend Stewart and Campbell also committed four armed robberies in Farrell and two robberies in Sharon between Nov. 29 and Dec. 30, 2011.

They’ve been in Mercer County Jail since January 2012.

The most serious of the charges the pair face are first- and second-degree murder stemming from the Basilone killing.

Stewart is scheduled to be tried on those charges next week.

Both also may or may not be subject of a federal probe into the gun violence in the Shenango Valley around that time that Kochems said may yield results this month.

Federal authorities don’t comment on pending investigations, but Kochems brought up the probe when he sought a continuance in one of the robbery cases Campbell is facing.

The cases, which have dragged on for almost two years, are anything but clear, and talking about them during the trials involving Basilone’s killing would “muddy the waters,” Whalen said.

No one’s been charged in two of the other 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.

Prosecutors were going to refer to those robberies, which involved two men, along with one Dec. 28, 2011 at the Wild Game Inn.

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.

Those Facebook posts also won’t be introduced during the trials, as Kochems had sought.

Prosecutors also wanted 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 yet 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.

But the source, Cedric Boyd, will still offer testimony to bolster the cases against Stewart and Campbell, Kochems said.