PITTSBURGH — Two men charged with ambushing a Wilkinsburg cookout and killing five adults and an unborn child will stand trial, a judge ruled during a hearing Friday.
Cheron Shelton, 29, and Robert Thomas, 27, face six counts of criminal homicide and other charges in the March 9 shooting. The judge held all charges for court, ruling that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed.
The decision came after more than four hours of testimony, which included the introduction of surveillance photos as evidence.
One of the surveillance photos allegedly shows Shelton walking outside of his mother’s home holding a long object. Police contend the object is a gun, but the defense quickly pointed out that it could not be proven.
In another surveillance photo, Shelton and Thomas can allegedly be seen returning to the home of Shelton’s mother about 45 minutes after the ambush shooting.
Allegheny County prosecutors say Thomas fired a handgun so the guests would run for cover toward a home, where they were gunned down on a porch by Shelton, who they say fired an assault rifle from close range.
Authorities believe they were trying to kill a cookout guest who the suspects believe killed Shelton's friend in 2013. Nobody has been charged in that killing, and the suspected target of the ambush shooting was wounded but survived.
Defense attorneys say the suspects are innocent.
Also entered into evidence during testimony was a jailhouse letter written by Shelton to a man he calls, “Pops.” In the letter, he wrote, “I got something there that I was working on get rid of."
He asks in the letter for the man to go to a friend and “explain what I need him to do. He'll take care of it."
Shelton finishes the letter writing, "Burn this when done reading."
“There's no DNA evidence, ballistics evidence, fingerprints and an inadmissible hearsay jailhouse evidence from a jail house informant,” Shelton's attorney, Randall McKinney, said.
The judge echoed the defense’s concerns about the circumstantial evidence in the courtroom, telling prosecutors that the already circumstantial evidence in Thomas' case is even weaker than Shelton’s.
Thomas' attorney, Casey White, agreed.
“Essentially nonexistent against my client. There's zero evidence of what happened prior to the homicide, and limited, if any, about after the homicides,” White said.
The judge that the conversation between Shelton and the jailhouse inmate can't be used at trial.
A trial date has yet to be set.
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