Jury selection underway in trial for two men accused in Allegheny Co. mass shooting

WILKINSBURG, Pa. — Jury selection in the trial of two men accused of killing five people and an unborn baby at a backyard cookout in Wilkinsburg nearly four years ago got underway Monday.

More than a dozen potential jurors have been interviewed and so far, two have been chosen. The process of selecting 12 men and women is turning into a lengthy process, in part because the possibility of sentencing these suspects to death remains on the table.

Most of the potential jurors questioned said they weren’t familiar with the incident.

Cheron Shelton and Robert Thomas each face six counts of homicide after the mass shooting on Franklin Avenue in March 2016.

You can customize your WPXI News App to receive alerts for Allegheny County news. CLICK HERE to find out how.

Investigators said the two men were targeting a man at the cookout over an incident in 2013. He survived the shooting.

Through court paperwork and testimony, investigators claim Thomas fired a shot near the backyard, causing people to run toward the porch to safety. That’s where Shelton was allegedly standing when he opened fire.

It happened in 2016, a time frame defense attorney Phil DiLucente believes will work in the defense’s favor.

“From a legal strategies standpoint, time is a defendant’s best friend because memories fade," he said.

DiLucente also said jury selection could make or break the case since jurors will have to decide who to believe. He told Channel 11 there is no “direct evidence,” such as DNA or the gun used, but rather a lot of testimony.

If convicted, Shelton and Thomas could be sentenced to death. That led attorneys to repeatedly ask potential jurors on Monday for their thoughts on the death penalty and under what circumstances they could see themselves handling down the ultimate sentence.

The judge issued a gag order in the case, meaning no one involved in the trial is allowed to speak publicly. The actual trial isn’t scheduled to begin until February.

Channel 11 learned the jury will not be sequestered, meaning they won’t be isolated during the trial.