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September 18, 2013

GUILTY - Stewart convicted on all counts in murder of Bill Basilone

MERCER — Joshua Lee Stewart killed William Basilone in a botched robbery Dec. 30, 2011, outside Basilone’s Roemer Boulevard bar in Farrell, a jury decided Tuesday.

The jury convicted Stewart, 20, of first- and second-degree murder and two counts each of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

It took the all-white panel of seven women and five men less than two hours to decide the case Tuesday evening.

The trial, which is the highest-profile case tried in Mercer County in this century, included three days of testimony from the prosecution, led by Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems, and an afternoon’s worth of summations by Kochems and court-appointed defense lawyer James Goodwin before jurors got the case about 4:40 p.m. Tuesday.

Goodwin did not present a defense. He had no obligation to prove anything during the trial, as the burden of proof rests with prosecutors, St. John advised the jury repeatedly.

Jurors arrived at a verdict by 6:40 p.m.

“There aren’t too many cases that last this long in Mercer County,” Judge Christopher St. John told jurors.

Sentencing wasn’t set Tuesday. Stewart was also facing the lesser charge of third-degree murder, which was moot because of the guilty verdicts on the more-serious murder charges. He will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Muted gasps of relief were let out by members of Basilone’s family as the verdict was read. St. John had lauded them for keeping their composure during the trial before the jury was brought into the courtroom, then reminded them to keep up the decorum during the verdict, which they did.

None of Stewart’s family was present for the verdict, although a bench of seven friends and family members did listen to closing arguments earlier in the afternoon.

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