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September 16, 2013

Picture it on Facebook

Keychain in video matches suspect’s in posted photo

FARRELL — On Oct. 25, 2011 – two months before Farrell bar owner William Basilone was gunned down outside his Roemer Boulevard bar – Joshua “Knoxx” Stewart posted a “selfie” to Facebook.

Users of the social media site are familiar with the type of picture he took: He’s holding a camera phone to the side of his face as he stands in front of a mirror.

The picture shows Stewart wearing a gray Champion hoodie and jeans, with a reversed white ball cap on his head.

Hanging from his waist and visible beneath the hoodie is a pink “D-ring” with a single key and a white rectangular discount card.

A similar keychain was taken from Stewart when he was arrested Jan. 4, 2012, in connection with Basilone’s murder.

Seeing the Facebook picture was an epiphany for Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Detective Sgt. Andrew Thomas as he probed Basilone’s killing.

“This was a defining moment in our investigation,” Thomas testified Friday, during the second day of Stewart’s trial on charges he shot and killed Basilone on Dec. 30, 2011.

The rectangular card offers discounts at Rite-Aid, but in Stewart’s case it helped secure him a ticket to Mercer County Jail as it matched one visible beneath the man wearing a gray Champion hoodie who appears in surveillance camera footage from outside Basilone’s that night. The hoodie on the video is similar to the one Stewart’s wearing in the picture.

It helped police crack the case, Thomas said.

Authorities allege Stewart, 20, and Devine Campbell, 19, killed Basilone in a botched robbery that night.

The duo each faces charges of first-, second- and third-degree murder and two counts each of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery for the crime.

Campbell, 19, will be tried separately.

Stewart’s case is being heard before Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John, where a jury has heard two days’ worth of the prosecution’s case against him.

He is represented by court-appointed defense lawyers James Goodwin and Autumn Johnson.

Thus far, Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems and his assistant, Lauren Hackett, have played about an hour’s worth of surveillance camera footage and they’ve asked Sgt. Thomas, along with an uncharged alleged co-conspirator in the robbery who got cold feet before the crime was committed, to narrate what the dark, low-quality footage depicts.

A jury and several members of Basilone’s family and friends have watched the video as Kochems has played and replayed parts of what happened that cold, wet night on Farrell’s main drag.

Three figures are caught on tape. Two are alleged to be Stewart and Campbell, with the third being Tylor Kalenic, who was 15 at the time and was invited by the others to “hit a lick” – commit a robbery – that night at Basilone’s.

They’re seen on the computer video file, casing out the bar. A figure who matches Stewart’s appearance enters the bar at one point, as does Kalenic, to case the bar before robbing it, Kalenic told jurors.

But before the robbery, “I just wasn’t feeling it,” Kalenic said.

He left and went to his house a few doors down the alley behind the bar, and left the front door to his house open for the others, Kalenic said.

The boy, now 17, said he then watched as Stewart encountered Basilone on the sidewalk outside the bar, then shot the 58-year-old in the back a couple times.

After Basilone fell to the sidewalk, Kalenic said Stewart then stood over the bar owner and fired a few more shots as Campbell stood in the alley.

They then went to Kalenic’s house, where they were picked up by two girls from Greenville who dropped them off at Stewart’s apartment, a few blocks up Roemer from Basilone’s, Kalenic said.

He is not being prosecuted in the case.

As the trial resumes today, at some point prosecutors will call Cedric Boyd, who’s serving time in Mercer County Jail on unrelated charges.

Boyd will testify that Stewart admitted his part in the crime to him at the jail, prosecutors have said in pretrial evidentiary hearings.

Basilone’s family and friends have watched the trial thus far and have gasped and cried as they endured the video footage that captures the shooting, which happens out of the camera’s eye.

The last two customers in Basilone’s that night have also testified, including Margaret Burger, who worked part-time at the bar and was romantically involved with Basilone.

“Bill was the love of my life,” Burger testified.

“He was very kind and caring, very passionate about our relationship and his family,” she said.

Basilone lived above the bar and he was working that night as regulars drank their fill that Friday.

Basilone’s had closed before the shooting and Burger and another patron and friend, Gary Wagner, “were just talking,” Burger said.

“Gary was having a rough time that night,” and Basilone and Burger were waiting for him to finish a nightcap that night, she said.

“Bill told me he was going outside,” she said, adding he told her to remain in the bar.

Then, “I heard shots,” Burger said.

She checked to make sure the back door was secure and then went outside, where she found Basilone face down on the sidewalk.

“I went over to him and I touched his back and knew I had to get my phone,” Burger said.

She went inside, called 911, and told Wagner to go outside to help Basilone.

They stayed with Basilone until police arrived a few moments later.

Two other witnesses saw the shooting, or parts of it, but they were unable to identify those involved.

Prosecutors have asked their names be withheld from newspaper coverage for their safety.

One of the witnesses lives in an apartment that overlooks the bar.

She testified she first thought the gunshots were fireworks being set off in advance of New Year’s celebrations.

When she saw it was a shooting, “I went and grabbed my phone and called 911,” she said.

“Somebody just got shot right in front of Basilone’s bar,” she said in the 911 call, which was played for the jury.

“There’s a guy laying on the sidewalk outside the bar,” she said in the call.

The other witness was driving on Emerson Avenue just east of Basilone’s and was going to stop for a drink at Razzcall’s bar.

He also thought it was firecrackers, but it became apparent it was a shooting.

A figure in a hoodie was behind Basilone “shooting him in the back,” the man said.

As Basilone fell to the ground the witness said he heard Basilone say “please, no.”

“He was begging for his life,” the man testified.

The gunman was “standing over him at his heels,” he said.

He also called 911 and told the dispatcher the shooting was at “point blank” range.

“I couldn’t recognize him, no,” the man said when asked if he could name the shooter.

The trial resumes this morning and the prosecution is expected to wrap up its case early this week, Kochems said.

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