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.
of smashing her way into borough office
Bob Kalinowski - Citizens
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