gets decades in prison for 2017 Nanticoke homicide
killer Antoine McNeal, 34, wont be eligible for parole until hes almost
66 under a sentence handed down Monday.
A jury in January found McNeal, of
Wilkes-Barre, guilty on counts of third-degree murder, criminal use of a communications
facility, robbery and tampering with evidence.
He was convicted of fatally
shooting 20-year-old Brandon Smith in a van outside of Smiths Nanticoke
home in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2017.
At trial, prosecutors painted
the attack as a robbery gone wrong, accusing him of going to Smiths home
to buy $500 worth of marijuana. Upon arrival, they said McNeal shot Smith twice
and stole a handful of Percocet pills Smith had in his possession.
in court on Monday before Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley for sentencing.
The judge allowed members of Smiths family to address the court first.
sister, Destiny Crooks, had harsh words for McNeal.
I dont believe
hes sorry for what he did, Crooks said. I pray for him, I pray
someday hes remorseful for what he did.
Briefly addressing the
court himself, McNeal didnt express any remorse, instead, maintaining he
had nothing to do with the shooting.
Condolences to the family but I
had no part of what happened to your son, he said. Im sorry.
said nothing else.
A large part of McNeals defense throughout his week-long
trial was that he was not involved with the crime, claiming that prosecutors did
not have enough physical evidence to convict him. However, a cell phone that was
eventually found to belong to McNeal was retrieved from the van Smith was shot
Before issuing her sentence, Gartley expressed condolences to Smiths
At the sentencing stage, there isnt much to say,
she said. Nothing will bring your son back.
Gartley ordered McNeal
to spend an aggregate 31 to 63 years in prison. McNeal was granted 678 days credit
for time served.
He will be required to pay nearly $20,000 in restitution.
The bulk of that money will go to the Pennsylvania State Police to cover for lab
work done during investigation.
An additional charge of possession of a firearm
by a felon, which had been severed from the trial, was withdrawn by prosecutors.
was remanded back to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility after sentencing
pending transfer to a state prison.
killer Antoine McNeal was sentenced Monday to serve up to 63 years in state prison.
Halpin - Citizens Voice
A jury convicted McNeal, 34, of third-degree murder,
criminal use of a communications device, tampering with evidence and robbery following
a trial in January.
Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley imposed the
sentence Monday, ordering McNeal to serve roughly 31½ to 63 years in state
prison. The judge gave McNeal credit for 678 days time served and ordered him
to pay more than $18,100 in restitution.
Prosecutors alleged McNeal set up
a drug deal to buy $500 worth of marijuana from 20-year-old Brandon Smith early
the morning of Jan. 18, 2017. After arriving at Smiths West Church Street
home in Nanticoke, McNeal shot him twice in the chest and robbed him of Percocet
pills Smith had in his pocket, prosecutors said.
The defense maintained that
although McNeal set up the drug deal, he arrived at Smiths home to find
Smith with another, unidentified person. As McNeal was walking, gunshots rang
out and he ran back to his girlfriends car saying, We got to get out
of here. Theyre shooting, according to the girlfriends testimony.
64, charged in Nanticoke hit-run crash
James Halpin - Citizens Voice
Nanticoke man was charged Tuesday with fleeing the scene of a crash that seriously
injured a 72-year-old man last month.
Police say John Charles Gajewski, 64,
of 65 Hill St., spent the day drinking at a bar before hitting Harold Rinehimer
and fleeing the scene in a panic the night of Jan. 20.
Rinehimer was hit as
he crossed East Broad and Market streets around 10:25 p.m. Jan. 20. Officers say
they found him lying in the northbound lane of South Market Street saying he had
been hit by a car that came out of nowhere.
Rinehimer was seriously
injured in the crash sustaining broken bones, abrasions and contusions
but was released from Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Plains Twp.,
on Jan. 25.
According to the complaint, police got video from the area and
identified a burgundy Chevrolet Malibu as the suspects vehicle. Video from
an ATM showed Rinehimer going airborne after being hit and the car then swerving
into the opposing lane indicating the driver knew what had happened, police
On Jan. 29, police found a burgundy 2016 Chevrolet Malibu with fresh
front-end damage parked outside of Gajewskis home, police said.
initially claimed a car had backed into his parked car at a supermarket, although
he never reported such an accident, according to the complaint.
He went on
to admit being at Larrys Pizza at 400 E. Church St. from about 3 p.m. until
11 p.m. the day of the crash, police said. Gajewski told police he drank between
eight and 10 cans of Miller Lite while watching football at the establishment,
according to the complaint.
He claimed he had then driven home along Market
Street, which police say would not have been possible because by that time the
road was already closed due to the accident. Police say the surveillance videos
also did not support Gajewskis version of events.
Gajewski stood by his
account, so police conducted further testing, according to the complaint.
examination showed his car had damage consistent with striking a person
in the form of dents and cracked paint damage that was not observed during
a vehicle inspection Gajewski had done on Jan. 16, police said.
also found what appeared to be human tissue on the vehicles grill, police
Confronted with the additional information, Gajewski admitted he had
lied and that he was responsible for the crash, according to the complaint. He
told police he panicked after hitting Rinehimer and was sorry for what happened,
Police charged Gajewski with a felony count of fleeing the scene
of an injury accident as well as summary counts of failing to stop and render
aid, failing to report an accident, giving false information and careless driving.
District Judge Donald L. Whittaker arraigned Gajewski on the charges Tuesday morning
and released him on $100,000 unsecured bail.
A preliminary hearing was set
for 9 a.m. March 13.
Suspect stole from club to fund gambling habit
Bob Kalinowski -
The suspect in the massive theft from a city social club
admitted to embezzling funds to support his lifestyle and a secret casino gambling
habit, according to a search warrant obtained by Nanticoke police.
documents identify the suspect as Daniel Wozniak, who was treasurer the past five
years at the Honey Pot Club in the citys Honey Pot section.
say tens of thousands of dollars are missing from the clubs coffers.
theft came to light recently after utilities were shut off to the clubs
building at 13 Honey Pot St. The utility shut off forced the Honey Pot Volunteer
Fire Department out of service. The fire company is an affiliated, but separate,
organization which shares the building with the club.
City police said they
recently were approached by board member Julianna Kobylarz, who reported the utilities
were shut off due to months of unpaid bills. She and other members then discovered
the clubs three bank accounts were depleted, police said.
next day, Wozniaks wife, Jennifer, also a board member, came to police headquarters
to report Wozniak was missing for several days, according to the search
warrant. She said he had sent her an email admitting to stealing from the club.
say Wozniak surrendered on Thursday and admitted to stealing from the club for
Wozniak, the clubs treasurer since 2014, said he initially
wrote himself several checks, but mainly stole money each night from cash deposits,
the search warrant says.
When there wasnt enough money to pay bills,
he would transfer cash from the clubs savings account to its checking account
until the point there was no money left, police said.
Wozniak said he used
the cash for personal purposes and to fund his closeted casino gambling
habit, the search warrant says.
Police say charges are pending the completion
of the investigation and an analysis of the clubs financial records.
to reach Wozniak on Friday were not immediately successful.
volunteers out of service due to theft
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens
The Honey Pot Volunteer Fire Department is out of service as city
police investigate a massive theft from its affiliated social club that led to
its utilities being shut off.
Nanticoke police Chief Tom Wall confirmed his
department is investigating the theft of tens of thousands of dollars from the
Honey Pot Club social hall and a suspect turned himself in to confess.
hall and fire department, which are affiliated but are two separate organizations,
share the same building at 13 Honey Pot St.
Wall said the thief came to light
when the utilities were shut off recently due to unpaid bills.
one of the things that gave it away. He was supposed to be doing that," Wall
Wall said the suspect turned over a computer and told police how he had
been skimming from the organization's finances for several years. Charges are
pending the completion of the investigation and analysis of financial records,
the chief said.
The volunteer fire company announced on Facebook on Wednesday
it was out of service for most calls because utilities were shut off to its building.
feel the community should be well aware of the issue at hand and the fire company
is not the one being investigated, as we have two organizations in the building,"
the fire company wrote on Facebook.
The fire company said residents still would
be in great hands because of the "amazing fire department here in the City
The volunteer department in the city's Honey Pot section
is one of several that supplement Nanticoke's full-time department.
a representative of the fire department declined further comment.
Fire Chief Kevin Hazleton said fire and rescue service will not be harmed while
Honey Pot is out of service.
"They are an independent agency. We cover
Honey Pot, so it will not affect service one bit," Hazleton said.
a post on the Honey Pot Club's Facebook page says there will be an "emergency
meeting" for members of the private club at 6 p.m. Friday at the West Side
Park clubhouse on West Grand Street.
"We will only be able to issue a
basic statement due to the active investigation and be open to help/thoughts to
try to get things moving forward," the post said.
Suspect identified in hit and run
police seek U-Haul truck driver in hit-run
72, seriously hurt in Nanticoke hit-run .. Black sedan with damage to front bumper.
found guilty of murder
James Halpin and Bob Kalinowski - Citizens
After nearly six hours of deliberations, a jury on Friday night
found Antoine McNeal guilty of third-degree murder.
McNeal, 34, was accused
of setting up a drug deal to buy $500 worth of marijuana from 20-year-old Brandon
Smith early the morning of Jan. 18, 2017.
Prosecutors alleged that after arriving
at Smiths West Church Street home in Nanticoke, McNeal shot him twice in
the chest and robbed him of Percocet pills Smith had in his pocket.
was also found guilty of criminal use of a communications device, tampering with
evidence and robbery.
The jury found him not guilty of first- and second-degree
Prosecutors struggled to understand how the jury found McNeal guilty
of robbery, but not guilty of second-degree murder, which is a killing during
the commission of a felony, such as robbery. A second-degree murder conviction
would have carried a penalty of mandatory life in prison, while the third-degree
conviction carries a maximum penalty of 20 to 40 years in prison.
were satisfied with the verdict.
We were confident from the beginning
Mr. McNeal pulled the trigger, said Assistant District Attorney William
Sentencing was set for Feb. 25 at 1 p.m.
The defense maintained
that although McNeal set up the drug deal, he arrived at Smiths home to
find Smith with another, unidentified person. As McNeal was walking, gunshots
rang out and he ran back to his girlfriends car saying, We got to
get out of here. Theyre shooting, according to the girlfriends
Mr. McNeal is disappointed. He maintained his innocence and
expected a not guilty verdict, defense attorney Demetrius Fannick said.Z
his closing argument, Fannick focused on testimony by Smiths own mother,
who testified her son was a drug dealer who had made enemies in the Tunkhannock
area because of ripping people off. When Smith was bleeding out on his living
room floor, he was shouting, They shot me! according to her testimony.
noted that Smith and McNeal worked together and knew each other well.
was a very close encounter, and if it was a close encounter with someone he knew
he would have told his parents who it was, Fannick said. He doesnt
know who shot him. He says, They shot me. ... Thats reasonable
doubt right there.
But Fannick also noted that the bullets recovered
from the crime scene were a different type than the unspent rounds recovered from
McNeals girlfriends house. While girlfriend Wakeelah Moores
.38 Special revolver which she claims had been previously stolen
was the same caliber of the murder weapon, Fannick noted that a prosecution gun
expert testified that millions of similar guns could have fired the bullets that
He also blasted police for a crap investigation,
alleging they failed to even bother testing evidence including a cigarette butt
and a soda can recovered from outside the van where Smith was fatally shot.
theres nothing in this case, Fannick said, noting that police only
recovered one partial fingerprint from the vehicle. How is that possible?
Thats mind-blowing, if you think about it.
During the prosecution
closing, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans reminded the jury that Moore
admitted in court that she drove McNeal to meet Smith moments before the shooting.
few minutes later, Brandon is running into his house to his mother, Tina, screaming,
They shot me! Hogans said.
The prosecutor downplayed the
significance of Smiths use of the word they, noting that in
earlier text exchanges McNeal had informed him he was coming with Moore.
importantly, there is zero evidence that anybody else was coming to see Brandon
that night, Hogans said, noting Smiths phone contained no text messages
indicating anyone else planned to meet him.
He also noted that Smiths
mother said he had been frantic and scared as he laid on the floor
screaming that he couldnt breathe and that he didnt want to die.
worlds already closing in on him, Hogans said. He was breathing
his last breaths. Brandon was not worried about who shot him.
urged the jury to focus on what the evidence shows: That Smith was killed by a
single shooter using a single revolver during a drug robbery. The defense, he
alleged, was trying to confuse the fact that the evidence conclusively puts McNeal
inside the van.
He doesnt want you to think about the fact that
the defendants phone was on the passenger seat of the van with Brandons
blood on it, Hogans said.
accused of smashing her way into borough office
Bob Kalinowski -
A woman smashed her way into the borough's municipal building
early Monday, seeking to steal documents from the police station about an investigation
targeting her, police said.
Police said Ashley Keister, 27, of Nanticoke, used
a large cigarette butt receptacle to smash glass doors to the building and gain
entry around 12:45 a.m. Once inside, she started rummaging through filing cabinets,
West Wyoming police Chief Curtis Nocera said Keister had been
under investigation for harassing a borough cop who arrested her last year.
wanted to have a relationship with him," Nocera said.
He said no one was
in the building at the time Keister entered, as police were out on patrol.
to breaking in, Keister called 911 and asked for an officer to meet her at the
station in 10 minutes, police said.
Investigators said Keister first bashed
the cigarette receptacle off the police department door, causing damage, before
using it to break into the borough building.
She never gained access to the
police station, Nocera said.
After Keister exited the building, police said
she picked up the cigarette receptacle again and smashed out more of the glass
Police said Keister then retreated to her vehicle and waited for police
to arrive. When an officer arrived, Keister charged at him and swung at his head,
She was then taken into custody.
The incident was caught on
surveillance footage, police said. Police released footage from the department's
video doorbell that they said depicts Keister smashing the cigarette container
off the door.
Investigators said Keister admitted to breaking into the borough
building to try to remove documents involving a police investigation targeting
Keister was charged with aggravated assaulted on a police officer, burglary,
institutional vandalism, loitering and prowling at night time, criminal mischief,
She was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Joseph Carmody.
Carmody ordered her jailed in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu
of $50,000 bail.
Trial set to begin
in drug robbery killing
on Friday picked a jury and opening statements are set for Monday in the case
of a Wilkes-Barre man accused of killing a man during a drug robbery in Nanticoke.
McNeal, 34, is accused of murdering Brandon Smith, 20, who was shot dead outside
his West Church Street, Nanticoke, home on Jan. 18, 2017. Prosecutors allege McNeal
killed Smith after meeting him to buy marijuana.
The prosecution recently succeeded
in adding a robbery charge against McNeal based on recorded jailhouse phone calls
in which McNeal referenced Smith having 30-milligram oxycodone pills in his pocket
at the time of the shooting.
The (expletive) had other drugs in his pocket
so evidently someone else was coming to see him besides me, prosecutors
have quoted McNeal as saying.
Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley granted
the prosecution request over the objections of the defense, which maintained the
additional charge would severely alter the case. However, the judge pushed back
the trial date of Dec. 3 to give the defense time to adapt.
are now scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.
allows Nanticoke man to withdraw guilty plea in alleged sex assault
Nanticoke man will take his chances with a jury now that a Luzerne County judge
permitted him to withdraw his guilty plea on a sexual assault charge.
Charles Monelli, 22, of South Hanover Street, was charged by Nanticoke police
with having sexual encounters with a 15-year-old girl from June 2017 until December
2017. Monelli claimed the encounters were consensual and the relationship ended
when the minors parents found out, court records say.
Despite the claim
of a consensual relationship, Monelli was charged with a felony statutory sex
assault charge due to the age difference involving a minor.
Monelli on Oct.
15 pleaded guilty to the felony charge while prosecutors withdrew a misdemeanor
count of corruption of minors.
But when Monelli appeared in court to be sentenced
Dec. 10, his lawyer, Joseph Sklarosky Sr., advised Judge Michael T. Vough that
Monelli wanted to withdraw his plea.
Sklarosky confirmed again Friday that
Monelli wanted to take back the plea, which Vough allowed.
it was a consensual relationship, clearly it was consensual, Sklarosky told
the judge. If a jury hears the case, they would acquit him.
scheduled Monellis trial for March.
In an unrelated case, Monelli was
sentenced last month to one year on probation and 50 hours of community service
for conspiring to steal items from the Turkey Hill store on West Main Street in
Nanticoke on May 4.
to begin Friday for 2017 Nanticoke homicide
selection is set to begin in a 2017 homicide case.
Antoine McNeal, 34, will
appear before Luzerne County Judge Tina Polachek Gartley on Friday morning. McNeal
is accused of fatally shooting Brandon Smith, 20, while Smith sat in a van outside
a Nanticoke home Jan. 18, 2017.
McNeal is facing a total of five charges, including
an open count of criminal homicide, prohibited possession of a firearm, criminal
use of a communication facility and tampering with evidence.
Smith was shot
and killed in the early morning hours. Previous testimony suggested the homicide
was a result of a drug deal gone wrong. Smiths mother, Tina Letavish, said
Smith was on the couch of their Nanticoke home texting someone before heading
outside around 2 a.m.
He ran back inside shortly later, shouting they
shot me before falling to the floor.
Investigators said they later found
a texting trail between Smith and a number that belonged to McNeal. The text messages
were aimed at setting up a drug deal, authorities report.
Court records show
McNeals trial is scheduled to last all of next week. Hes been locked
up without bail in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility since his arrest in