The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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Crime

July 13, 2014

Basilone killer Stewart’s appeals denied

SHENANGO VALLEY — State Superior Court on Friday denied two appeals filed by convicted murderer Joshua L. Stewart.

The appeals stem from his conviction of first-degree murder in the Dec. 30, 2011, shooting of William Basilone Jr. in Farrell, and robbery in the Dec. 29, 2011, holdup of Joe Moss in Sharon.

Stewart appealed the decision of Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John not to suppress evidence of a D-shaped key ring in the Basilone case, for which he has been sentenced to life in prison.

The key ring was seized from Stewart, 20, formerly of Roemer Boulevard, Farrell, when he was arrested Jan. 3, 2012, but it was not listed on a Mercer County Jail inventory when he was taken to the jail.

A Southwest Mercer County Regional Police detective reviewed video evidence and concluded Stewart had a D-ring with some sort of card attached to it. He asked jail officials to determine whether they had such a ring.

A deputy warden went through Stewart’s property bag May 7, 2013, and found the D-ring with an awards card attached to it and other items not listed on the property inventory.

Police obtained a search warrant for the D-ring and seized it from the jail.

The D-ring was introduced into evidence during the trial, used to help identify Stewart.

St. John said the jail is not a law enforcement agency and has the duty to safeguard inmates’ belongings. He found it “not unreasonable” for jail employees to conduct a new inventory to make sure nothing has been removed and review the performance of the booking officer.

Stewart called the jail employee’s re-entrance of his property bag a warrantless search because too much time had passed since his arrest, and he said he had an expectation of privacy.

A three-judge Superior Court cited a federal case in which it was determined that a second search of an inmate’s belongings a substantial time after the inmate’s arrest is legal as long as the personal items were lawfully seized at the time of arrest.

Stewart did not challenge that his belongings had been properly seized, the court said.

Stewart challenged the sentence of 10 to 20 years – the maximum sentence for the crime – in the Moss case, arguing it was manifestly excessive, unreasonable because it exceeded the guidelines range of 3-to-4 years and was not tailored to his rehabilitative needs.

St. John justified the sentence in noting Stewart “clearly demonstrated a fixed lifestyle of criminality that was escalating when he held a gun to a man’s head to get a meager $30.”

The same panel that ruled in the appeal concerning the Basilone case supported St. John’s conclusion in the Moss case.

St. John gave “ample consideration” to Stewart’s character and other mitigating factors, and considered his rehabilitative needs, the panel said.

Stewart had not reformed and rehabilitated himself after adjudications for juvenile indiscretions, the court said.

“Instead, the intensity and nature of the offenses escalated,” the court said.

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