PITTSBURGH — A not guilty verdict was reached by a jury Friday in the trial for Cheron Shelton, the man who was accused of helping to gun down five people and an unborn baby at a backyard barbecue in Wilkinsburg in March 2016.
>>RELATED STORY: Timeline of case against suspects in 2016 Wilkinsburg shooting
The courtroom was silent when the verdict was read, according to Channel 11′s Aaron Martin, who reported that when the jury started to leave, cries could be heard from the families of the victims. Shelton wiped away tears as he was walked out of court, Martin reported.
Shelton’s defense attorney, Randall McKinney, said he was “elated” for Shelton’s family.
The defense team said they believe detectives focused on their client early on in the investigation without much evidence.
“As described by the media, this case was a house of cards from the start,” said defense attorney Wendy Williams. “I think Mr. Thomas’ case being dismissed right before the trial started was a huge question for the jury.”
Robert Thomas, 31, had been charged alongside Shelton in the shootings.
Friday was the fourth day of deliberations for jurors, who were considering first- and third-degree murder charges.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala released a statement to Channel 11 following the verdict:
"I would first like to thank the members of this jury who clearly put a good deal of thought and consideration into their final decision.
I would also like to thank the friends and family members of the victims for the dignity they have shown in the face of unspeakable loss and heartache.
It is very difficult for the police and my office to investigate and prosecute crimes when the number of witnesses is limited.
That said, the members of law enforcement in this county and the members of my office will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute all criminal activity that takes place. We owe that much to victims and to public safety generally."
On Thursday -- a day after the District Attorney’s Office filed a motion denying allegations that financial assistance was provided to Kendall Mikell, Witness No. 1, beyond relocation for safety purposes -- defense attorney Randall McKinney filed his own motion saying the defense was never notified until now.
McKinney attached a witness relocation form for Mikell to the motion. The form from 2016 was signed by Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini. McKinney’s motion claims this is proof Mikell received financial benefit that was not disclosed to Shelton’s attorneys until recently.
In its motion filed Wednesday, the District Attorney’s Office said it only provided financial assistance to protect its witness and “anything to the contrary is deliberate and offensive.”
Mikell told Channel 11’s Aaron Martin he received payments from investigators related to the Wilkinsburg mass shooting case for years.
Wednesday morning, the jury asked for more information on prior testimony from Wilkinsburg police detective Michael Adams, who testified he saw Shelton minutes after the shooting. He told the jury he stared at him for five to six seconds but never spoke to him; however, in a prior hearing, he said it was 60 seconds.
Adams is the only investigator who testified he saw Shelton near the scene in the immediate aftermath. During closing arguments, defense attorney Randall McKinney suggested Adams lied on the stand, an allegation ADA Kevin Chernosky denied.
You can now customize your WPXI News App to receive alerts to breaking news. CLICK HERE to find out how.
The jury deliberated for seven hours Tuesday before being sent home.
On Tuesday morning, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office released evidence that was shown in court during the trial, including letters and videos.
One video shows Shelton having a conversation with his father inside jail. Shelton did not know he was being recorded and his voice is not heard, but the video appears to show him acting out holding a gun with two hands and pulling the trigger repeatedly.
A letter addressed to “Pops,” the father of Shelton’s girlfriend, says, in part: “… around the corner at Bubbies house -- I got something there that I was working on getting rid of.” At the bottom of the letter, just before Shelton’s signature, it says, “Burn this when done reading.”
We got our first peek into the jurors’ thinking on Tuesday when they asked the judge two questions:
1. Who does the prosecution allege held the 40-caliber gun and the rifle?
Judge’s response: Rely on your memories.
2. Can we have access to the T-Mobile phone records?
Judge’s response: Yes
Also on Tuesday, defense attorney Wendy Williams filed an oral motion for a mistrial over Judge Borkowski releasing evidence all at once during jury deliberations, but the motion was denied.
Both the defense and the prosecution in Shelton’s trial wrapped up their closing arguments on Monday. The prosecution brought out detailed autopsy photos of the victims and called an FBI cellphone expert to talk about pinging the location of Shelton’s phone.
Shelton’s defense attorneys argued the state did not reach their burden of proof and the case should be thrown out. The judge denied their motion. During closing arguments, attorneys also said physical evidence at the scene does not match Shelton’s DNA.
More than 650 exhibits were shown over the six days of the trial. The gun used in the shooting was never recovered.
© 2020 © 2020 Cox Media Group