Mistrial declared in Pitcairn homicide case

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An Allegheny County judge declared a mistrial Tuesday for a Hill District man charged with homicide after the jury in his case deadlocked twice.

Antonio Butler, 19, will be tried again later this year.

Mr. Butler is charged with the December 2009 shooting death of LaMont "LoLo" Ford, 17, who was shot as he sat in a car in Pitcairn, according to police.

Questioned by detectives, Mr. Butler said he did not know where Pitcairn was. But multiple witnesses identified him as the shooter, one relying on a tattoo on the man's hand: "R.I.P. Jungle."

Mr. Butler's trial began last week before Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Mariani. After testimony closed Monday, the jury returned to the courtroom several times with questions. Tuesday afternoon, jury members said they had deadlocked for a second time, and Judge Mariani released them.

Key to the case was the testimony of two witnesses: Mr. Butler's cellmate and another man, whom Deputy District Attorney Christopher Avetta asked the Post-Gazette not to identify.

The unnamed witness testified that he had been in the car with Mr. Ford and Mr. Butler the day of the killing. As he left, he heard gunshots and saw Mr. Butler flee, he testified.

Later, a homicide detective testified that when he interviewed Mr. Butler, the man discarded a soda can. The detective removed it from the trash while Mr. Butler was watching as an "investigative tactic," he said.

When Mr. Butler was taken to jail, he asked his cellmate if police could retrieve DNA from a soda can, the cellmate testified.

"After that he asked me what kind of DNA you could get out of a vehicle," Brian Franklin said. "I told him you could get fiber, blood, bodily fluids, fingerprints."

"He said, 'Well I had gloves on, so they wouldn't get fingerprints,' " Mr. Franklin testified. Mr. Butler then confessed to the killing, Mr. Franklin said.

"Partly, I didn't believe him, because you're in jail, and people try to make things up," Mr. Franklin testified.

In her closing argument, defense lawyer Lisa Phillips contended that physical evidence in the case was lacking. She also questioned the credibility of the unnamed witness and Mr. Franklin, arguing that neither were reliable.

As he awaited a verdict Monday, Mr. Butler's father said he did not believe his son would confess details about "something as serious as a homicide" to someone he barely knew.

"I know he didn't do this ... in my heart of hearts," William Butler said, extending his condolences to the Ford family.

"Both families are victims in this situation," he said.

Vivian Nereim: vnereim@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1413.


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