Not guilty verdict rendered in Wilkinsburg shooting; victim says whoever did it will have ‘to answer to God’

PITTSBURGH — Two men were arrested and charged in connection with a 2016 ambush shooting that killed five people and an unborn baby during a backyard barbecue in Wilkinsburg.

A judge dismissed all charges against Robert Thomas, 31. However, the trial for 33-year-old Cheron Shelton is moving forward.

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Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020

John Ellis, a man who was shot and survived the 2016 backyard barbecue shooting told Channel 11 that whoever pulled the trigger that day will have “to answer to God.” He was paralyzed that day and is confined to a bed.

Friday, Feb. 14, 2020

A not guilty verdict was reached by a jury in the trial for Cheron Shelton. The courtroom was silent when the verdict was read. When the jury started to leave, cries could be heard from the families of the victims. MORE INFORMATION

This was just the latest loss in a line of cases for the District Attorney’s Office.

Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020

A jailhouse information whose information was used to charge Cheron Shelton and Robert Thomas in the shooting said he was pressured to fabricate information.

“They will do anything and say anything for a conviction. It puts people’s lives in jeopardy and ruins lives,” Kendall Mikell said.


Monday, Feb. 10, 2020

Both sides wrapped up their closing arguments in the case against Cheron Shelton today. The jury was sent home shortly after 4:30 p.m. and is expected to start deliberating on Tuesday.

The prosecution rested its case against Cheron Shelton this morning. The defense argued the state did not reach its burden of proof and the case should be thrown out. Defense attorneys also argued cell phone tracking data does not point exact locations.

Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020

The focus thus far has been on defendant Cheron Shelton, but today it shifted to another man we have never heard of.

Lonnie Jenkins was held in contempt of court and sentenced to six months in jail for speaking to an alternate juror.

According to Channel 11 News’ exchange partners at The Trib, it happened in the courtroom earlier this week while a lengthy surveillance video was playing.

It’s the latest unusual detour for the man on trial. His co-defendant, Robert Thomas, had his charges dismissed due to a lack of evidence minutes before the trial began Monday.

On Thursday, prosecutors introduced cellphone records for phones they say belonged to Shelton and Thomas. On the night of the mass shooting, records show 34 calls were made between the numbers over a four-hour period.

However, there was a 10-minute gap in calls when police say the shooting took place. Shelton’s attorney pointed out there were other calls and texts made during that time as well.

Jurors also watched a video of Shelton speaking to his father in the Allegheny County Jail before he was charged with the shooting. There’s no audio, but at one point Shelton is seen acting things out through the window separating the two -- including appearing to to mimic holding and firing a rifle.

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020

The jury in the trial against Shelton saw nearly 100 crime scene photos, including pictures of 58 bullet casings from the gunfire. A detective with the Allegheny County Police testified it was the most extensive crime scene of his career.

Lamont Powell, the alleged target of the shooting, also testified. Investigators said the shooting was in retaliation for the death of Shelton’s friend, Calvin Doswell, who died in 2013.

Robert Thomas was released from the Allegheny County Jail.

Jurors also heard from shooting victim John Ellis, who lived next door and was at the cookout.

"I heard popping noises. I said to myself, did I get shot? Then the third one I felt it. I started running to my house and it sounded like the 4th of July," Ellis told jurors.

One of those shots hit him in the spine. Ellis is now paralyzed, testifying that doctors doubt he’ll be able to walk again.

Jurors also viewed more than 100 pieces of evidence from the crime scene, including the bullet casings from the 48 shots that were fired – 30 from a rifle and 18 from a handgun.

“This was the most extensive crime scene I’ve been on in my career,” said Allegheny County Sgt. Todd Dolfi.

During cross examination, a scientist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner also testified the bullet casings did not match the ammunition found inside Shelton’s mother’s home during a search warrant.

The Commonwealth will continue its case against Shelton at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Monday, Feb. 3, 2020

A judge dismissed all charges against Robert Thomas following a motion filed by his attorney. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office agreed with Thomas’ attorney that a key witness slated to take the stand was not credible. The judge said the prosecutors had good circumstantial evidence, but without witness testimony there was not enough for the case to move forward.

That witness, Witness No. 3, provided information on 13 different criminal cases and allegedly confessed to a 2013 shooting in which a 1-year-old boy was killed.

Opening arguments also began in the trial against Cheron Shelton. Assistant DA Kevin Chernosky argued that Shelton “unleashed an unmerciless hailstorm of bullets.” Shelton’s defense argued he had no part in the shooting and that detectives actually saw him running from the scene.

Friday, Jan. 31, 2020

Attorneys for both Thomas and Shelton are calling for the charges to be dropped against their clients. The also wanted the death penalty to be taken off the table in addition to other requests.

In a motion filed in court, the lawyers argued there could not be a fair trial because prosecutors violated due process by not turning over all evidence.

Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020

The mother of a baby killed in a Pittsburgh shooting is demanding justice after the alleged shooter confessed.

The man, known as Witness No. 3, is connected to the trial of Robert Thomas and Cheron Shelton who were charged with gunning down 5 people and an unborn baby in March 2016 at a backyard barbecue in Wilkinsburg. Witness No. 3 was considered a key witness in that case.

1-year-old Marcus White, Jr. died after a shooting at a family picnic in Pittsburgh’s East Hills neighborhood.

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020

The credibility of a key witness in the shooting trial was called into question and it could lead to charges being dismissed.

The information regarding a man known only as Witness No. 3 only came to light roughly a week before the trial against Robert Thomas was scheduled to begin. A defense attorney estimated 80% of the case against Thomas rested on the testimony of Witness No. 3.

Friday, Jan. 3, 2020

Jury selection began this morning in the trial of Robert Thomas and Cheron Shelton. Both faced six counts of homicide following the mass shooting that occurred on Franklin Avenue in March 2016.

The jury selection process would end up taking weeks.

ADDITIONAL COVERAGE: Father of Wilkinsburg shooting victim says he knows men charged with daughter’s death

March 12, 2018

The trial for Robert Thomas and Cheron Shelton was rescheduled on this day.

July 29, 2016

Two men were charged on this day with ambushing and killing five people and an unborn baby in March 2016.

The judge held all charges for court, which means there was enough evidence for the case to move forward. The decision came after more than four hours of testimony.

A surveillance photo allegedly showed both men returning the shooting scene 45 minutes after the ambush. Prosecutors said Robert Thomas fired a handgun so the guests would run for cover where Cheron Shelton was laying in wait to gun them down.

RELATED STORY: Wilkinsburg mass shooting survivor on suspects’ arrests: ‘I don’t want to see them die’

March 18, 2016

District Attorney Stephen Zappala told Channel 11 they had identified the gunmen in the mass shooting in Wilkinsburg. No arrests had been made and the names of the suspects were not released at the time.

Zappala said at the time he was “cautiously optimistic that we have identified the people responsible for this.”

RELATED: Community leaders ask for peace as first of Wilkinsburg shooting victims laid to rest

March 10, 2016

Five people and an unborn baby were shot and killed at a backyard cookout in Wilkinsburg.

District Attorney Stephen Zappala said the ambush was premeditated and planned, and he called it one of the most brutal shooting scenes he had ever seen.

The gunfire began shortly after 11 p.m. in an alley behind a house. Partygoers tried to escape through the house, but another shooter was waiting to gun them down.

Three of the people killed were sibling: Jerry Shelton, Chanetta Powell and Brittany Powell. Chanetta Powell was eight months pregnant, police said. The other two people killed were Tina Shelton and Shada Mahone. Three people were wounded.