Homicide, conspiracy charges withdrawn in slaying of 2

May 4, 2019

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Prosecutors in western Pennsylvania have withdrawn homicide and conspiracy charges against three men in the 2017 slayings of a father and his young son.

The Allegheny County district attorney’s office cited the death of a key witness in announcing the decision Friday on the charges against Donavan Wilson, 25, Brandon Barnett, 27, and 31-year-old Jacqua Barnett.

“The death of the witness created evidentiary issues that we cannot overcome with the remaining evidence,” spokesman Mike Manko said. The charges could be refiled later, but Manko declined comment on whether or how the investigation might proceed.

The three were charged after the December 2017 shooting in Swissvale, just outside Pittsburgh, that killed 29-year-old Walter Stewart Jr. and 7-year-old Jo Lawrence Stewart.

Prosecutors said Stewart was ambushed after going to the home to buy marijuana. At least 21 shots were fired during the 2017 shootout, and three guns were recovered, authorities said. Defense attorneys said the evidence was inconclusive and whoever fired acted in self-defense.

Brandon Barnett’s attorney, Ralph Karsh, said he and his client were “overjoyed” by the decision by prosecutors.

“My client was shot over six times in the house, his licensed firearm was found in the house, unfired,” he said. ”... And not to disparage the deceased, but he brought his 7-year-old to a drug deal, and the drugs were in the child’s backpack.”

Wilson’s attorney, Randall McKinney, said the defense had been prepared for trial, but “We’re very pleased with this result.”