East Hills man arrested, charged with 2 Pittsburgh killings


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An East Hills man charged in two Pittsburgh killings and suspected in a third was arrested Wednesday after investigators nabbed him at the end of a chase, police said.

Pittsburgh police said members of a federal fugitive task force heard a woman scream, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" when they knocked about 10:45 a.m. on the door of a home in the 7000 block of Chaucer Street where they suspected James Lawrence, 21, was staying. Shortly after, Mr. Lawrence ran out of the house wearing a bullet-resistant vest, scaled a chain-link fence and ran down North Murtland Street in Homewood, where he was arrested.

In his possession, investigators said, were crack cocaine, $700 in cash, a camouflage mask and a pair of black gloves. Inside the home, near the door Mr. Lawrence had just run out of, were an AK-47 assault rifle and a bag of ammunition, police said.

The U.S. Marshals Western Pennsylvania Fugitive Task Force "has arrested nearly 500 violent fugitives in the past year, but this was one of the most significant arrests of [the] year. Lawrence was believed to be a serious threat to the community," U.S. Marshal Steve Frank said.

The first homicide with which Mr. Lawrence is charged occurred outside Red's Bar in Beltzhoover on Feb. 28. Pittsburgh police who were called to the area found Tiona Jackson, a 28-year-old nurse and mother of six, with multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and trunk. She died at the scene. A 32-year-old man accompanying her was severely injured by multiple gunshots.

After speaking to witnesses and watching surveillance footage, Pittsburgh homicide detectives determined that Ms. Jackson and her friend had argued with some men inside the bar. Shortly after they left, police said, a Pontiac Bonneville drove by and two men got out and shot Ms. Jackson and the man accompanying her. Police also arrested Dorian Peebles, 22, of Homewood in connection with that shooting.

The second killing in which Mr. Lawrence is charged occurred about a month later on March 30. Police were called to the 3000 block of Chartiers Avenue in Sheraden about 3:30 a.m. for a report that a man, Steven Lee, 21, of McKees Rocks, had been shot multiple times after a confrontation on a party bus that had stopped in the area.

Detectives wrote in a criminal complaint that Samantha Powe, 30, of Garfield and two other women fought that night with some people on a party bus traveling from the South Side to Sheraden.

They wrote that while Ms. Powe was on the bus she called someone on her cell phone and said she wanted that person to "come over here and smoke these people," referring to Mr. Lee and his sister, who was not injured.

A second woman on the bus also was on her phone when she told the driver to stop the bus and three men with guns got out of their car, police wrote. They said Mr. Lawrence and Michael Lyons, 22, of Homewood, who was previously arrested, then shot Mr. Lee in front of the bus.

Pittsburgh police found Ms. Powe shot to death on a dead-end street in Homewood on July 16. Charges have not been filed in that case but police sources indicate Mr. Lawrence is a suspect.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.


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