The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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May 17, 2013

Devine Campbell acquitted of gun charges

MERCER COUNTY — No one disputes that a Sharon woman was terrorized by a young man who pulled a gun on her after tossing a half-eaten stromboli at her as she was walking home from work on a Sunday night in December 2011.

But Devine Campbell wasn’t that man, a jury concluded Thursday.

The eight men and four women on the jury found Campbell, 18, formerly of Farrell, not guilty of two gun charges, making terroristic threats and simple assault in connection with the Dec. 18, 2011, incident on East Budd Street in Sharon.

“They (the jurors) did their job as they understood it,” Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said.

The alleged victim in the case told police a light blue car pulled up next to her after 10 o’clock that night and that a young man she later identified as Campbell tossed a stromboli at her, leaned out the passenger side window of the car and pointed a gun at her before pulling away.

“I feel bad for Miss (Laura) Norris,” Campbell’s lawyer J. Jarrett K. Whalen said after court recessed. “I believe something happened to her. But it just wasn’t Mr. Campbell” who did it.

The jury deliberated 2èhours on the case, and asked at one point if they could see the photograph that was published in this newspaper that the woman used to identify Campbell as the man who threatened her.

Norris hadn’t seen Campbell prior to Dec. 18, 2011, but she said when she saw his picture in the Jan. 4 edition of The Herald she recognized him as the man who pulled a gun on her on that Sunday night.

That photograph of Campbell wasn’t introduced as evidence during the trial and wasn’t available to the jury, Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John told them after they asked to see the picture.

Prior to closing arguments, the judge also denied the prosecution’s request to introduce a photo they said depicted Campbell wearing a dark- colored hooded sweatshirt.

“I don’t see it as being good enough,” St. John said. “It looks like a light-colored hoodie, he said of the photocopied photograph. “It just isn’t a good enough picture.”

In a case that Whalen told the jury his colleagues were already calling the “stromboli case,” the prosecution didn’t meet the burden of proof, he argued.

That stromboli “might have played a major part in the case,” Whalen said. But “due to the unfortunate death of the stromboli, it’s a minor player.”

The stromboli went bad in the evidence refrigerator of the Sharon police station before a DNA sample could be tested.

Instead, jurors had to rely on the testimony of the police, Campbell and the alleged victim.

Jurors didn’t have to disbelieve all of the woman’s testimony about what happened that night, Whalen said. “You only have to find that her recollection is incorrect.”

There were contradicting police reports on what happened causing Whalen to tell jurors, “Compare the reports line by line.”

He also asked them to believe Campbell’s testimony.

While under oath, Campbell stated that he did not know anyone who had an older, boxy blue car that matched the description the woman gave of the vehicle.

“He testified he didn’t do it,” Whalen said.

Campbell’s mother also denied that her son owned a dark hooded sweatshirt like the one worn by the perpetrator.

“We’re not asking you to find Miss Norris is a liar,” Whalen said. “We believe Miss Norris made a mistake and it’s an honest mistake.

“We all see people and we think they’re someone and they turn out to be someone else,” Whalen said. “It was an honest mistake, a real mistake, but a mistake you can rectify by returning a verdict of not guilty.”

The verdict doesn’t spell the end to Campbell’s legal troubles.

He and Joshua Stewart, 20, also formerly of Farrell, are charged with first- and second-degree murder in the Dec. 30, 2011, killing of Farrell bar owner William Basilone.

Stewart is the man authorities say shot the 58-year-old Basilone at least five times. Prosecutors say Campbell was with Stewart at the time and conspired with him to commit the crime. Both men also face two counts each of robbery and conspiracy in the case, which is set to go to trial in July.

Campbell also is awaiting trial on robbery, assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from an incident that happened at the Mercer County Jail. That case could be heard next week.

He’s also facing charges of aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery stemming from the Dec. 20 shooting of a Farrell market owner during a robbery.

After the verdict, he was returned to Mercer County Jail where he’s been held since his arrest Jan. 3, 2012.

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