Nanticoke Police Department - 2019
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McNeal found guilty of murder
James Halpin and Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

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 Smith’s West Church Street home in Nanticoke, McNeal shot him twice in the chest and robbed him of Percocet pills Smith had in his pocket.
McNeal 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 homicide.
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.
Still, prosecutors were satisfied with the verdict.
“We were confident from the beginning Mr. McNeal pulled the trigger,” said Assistant District Attorney William Finnegan.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 25 at 1 p.m.
The defense maintained that although McNeal set up the drug deal, he arrived at Smith’s home to find Smith with another, unidentified person. As McNeal was walking, gunshots rang out and he ran back to his girlfriend’s car saying, “We got to get out of here. They’re shooting,” according to the girlfriend’s testimony.
“Mr. McNeal is disappointed. He maintained his innocence and expected a not guilty verdict,” defense attorney Demetrius Fannick said.Z
During his closing argument, Fannick focused on testimony by Smith’s 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.
Fannick noted that Smith and McNeal worked together and knew each other well.
“This 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 doesn’t know who shot him. He says, ‘They shot me.’ ... That’s 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 McNeal’s girlfriend’s house. While girlfriend Wakeelah Moore’s .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 killed Smith.
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.
“Forensically, there’s nothing in this case,” Fannick said, noting that police only recovered one partial fingerprint from the vehicle. “How is that possible? That’s 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.
“A 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 Smith’s use of the word “they,” noting that in earlier text exchanges McNeal had informed him he was coming with Moore.
“Most importantly, there is zero evidence that anybody else was coming to see Brandon that night,” Hogans said, noting Smith’s phone contained no text messages indicating anyone else planned to meet him.
He also noted that Smith’s mother said he had been “frantic and scared” as he laid on the floor screaming that he couldn’t breathe and that he didn’t want to die.
“His world’s already closing in on him,” Hogans said. “He was breathing his last breaths. Brandon was not worried about who shot him.”
Hogans 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 doesn’t want you to think about the fact that the defendant’s phone was on the passenger seat of the van — with Brandon’s blood on it,” Hogans said.

Woman accused of smashing her way into borough office
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

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, police said.
West Wyoming police Chief Curtis Nocera said Keister had been under investigation for harassing a borough cop who arrested her last year.
"She 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.
Prior 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 door.
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, police said.
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 her.
Keister was charged with aggravated assaulted on a police officer, burglary, institutional vandalism, loitering and prowling at night time, criminal mischief, and harassment.
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

Attorneys 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.
Antoine 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.
Opening statements are now scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

Judge allows Nanticoke man to withdraw guilty plea in alleged sex assault

A 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.
Dylan 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 minor’s 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.
“He maintains it was a consensual relationship, clearly it was consensual,” Sklarosky told the judge. “If a jury hears the case, they would acquit him.”
Vough scheduled Monelli’s 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.

Jury selection to begin Friday for 2017 Nanticoke homicide

Jury 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. Smith’s 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 McNeal’s trial is scheduled to last all of next week. He’s been locked up without bail in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility since his arrest in April 2017.