By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer
Barring another delay in court proceedings, the first of two trials in the Dec. 30, 2011, killing of William “Billy” Basilone outside his namesake Farrell bar will begin today.
Court delays have been the norm in the case, which has inched along for almost two years.
The men accused of killing and robbing Basilone, who was 58 when he was shot to death, have been in Mercer County Jail since Jan. 2, 2012.
Jury selection is set to begin today in Joshua Stewart’s trial before Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John.
Stewart, 20, of Farrell, is charged with first- and second-degree murder and two counts each of robbery and conspiracy. He is represented by public defenders James Goodwin Jr. and Autumn Johnson.
Stewart is alleged to be the man who shot Basilone five times that night.
He is being tried separately from Devine Campbell, 19, who faces the same charges. His trial should be in October.
The trials have been delayed by changes in attorneys and requests by both sides for more time to build their cases.
There have also been several plea deals that fell apart at the last minute, plus trials for other cases involving the pair. Authorities allege Stewart and Campbell went on a crime spree in the last month of 2011.
The evidence gathered during those other, unrelated crimes won’t be allowed in the murder trial, at least in the way prosecutors have presented it thus far to St. John.
Authorities contend Stewart and Campbell committed four armed robberies in Farrell and two robberies in Sharon between Nov. 29 and Dec. 30, 2011.
Both also may or may not be subject of a federal probe into the gun violence in the Shenango Valley around that time. District Attorney Bob Kochems has said that probe 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 against Campbell.
The cases are anything but clear and talking about them during the trials involving Basilone’s killing would “muddy the waters,” said Campbell’s attorney J. Jarrett K. Whalen.
No one’s been charged in two of the robberies – one Nov. 29 at Dollar General in Farrell and the other Dec. 19 at Family Dollar, just east of what’s left of the Farrell’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. District Judge Ronald E. Antos dismissed charges against Campbell in that robbery because the only links were postson 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 slaying 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 boost 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.
Stewart’s due for an appearance this afternoon before Judge Robert G. Yeatts in the Wild Game Inn robbery.