Charge dropped against man identified in photo array

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Bryan Gibbons had been arrested before for stealing and pawning jewelry.

But when Allegheny County homicide detectives brought him in for an interview and peppered him with questions for 10 hours about a Kennedy man's death and the theft of jewelry and other items from his home, Mr. Gibbons said he was baffled.

"They wanted information from me that I didn't have or didn't know," said Mr. Gibbons, 29, of Hampton.

Mr. Gibbons said he would have helped, but he couldn't. Police charged Mr. Gibbons July 25 with receiving stolen property, relying on the identification of a Sharpsburg pawn shop employee who was shown a photo array and pointed him out as the man who tried to sell the stolen jewelry and then left.

That charge was withdrawn Wednesday. A detective on the case contacted the Allegheny County district attorney's office and said "there was a mistaken identity and Gibbons was not the person who tried to sell the jewelry at the pawn shop," said Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney.

County homicide Lt. Andrew Schurman did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. The witness declined comment.

The arrest of people based solely on witness identification has been a controversial topic lately.

"This is a case where it has its flaws," said Casey White, Mr. Gibbons' attorney.

Pittsburgh police and the DA’s office have argued recently about whether officers should use sequential or simultaneous photo arrays. In a sequential array, witnesses are shown photos of possible suspects one at a time; in a simultaneous array, they are shown photos of several people side by side.

Court documents show that an employee at a Sharpsburg pawn shop selected Mr. Gibbons after he was shown photos one by one.

"It's scary," Mr. White said, noting that's he about the same age and build as his client and just as easily could have ended up in the array.

Mr. Gibbons said he was home until about 2:45 p.m. the day John Parkes was killed. Mr. White said he has phone logs and text messages that show his whereabouts at the time of the killing. He said he knew of no other evidence against his client other than the witness identification.

The same witness who identified Mr. Gibbons is mentioned in an affidavit supporting the arrest of Michael Lapaglia, 23, of Sharpsburg, who was arrested last week on charges that he killed Mr. Parkes, his aunt's fiance, and stole the jewelry.

Police quoted the witness as saying a man entered the shop and tried to sell him jewelry — but because the man had attempted to sell him stolen jewelry before, the employee took photos of the items and told the man to return the next day. The man never returned.

Last week, after Mr. Gibbons had been arrested and while Mr. White was working on his case, a Pittsburgh police detective contacted Allegheny County police to tell them the jewelry had been sold to a pawn shop in the city. A transaction record listed Mr. Lapaglia as the man who sold it and surveillance footage places Mr. Lapaglia in that store, handing items to an employee, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Lapagalia faces charges of homicide, burglary and robbery.

Mr. Gibbons is awaiting a hearing on charges that Pittsburgh police found him in a car with needles, crack pipes and empty stamp bags, and he is awaiting trial on charges that he stole jewelry and other items from a neighbor.

For now, Mr. Gibbons and his family are focused on the relief that they said came when a prosecutor withdrew the charge against him in connection with Mr. Parkes’ stolen items. 

“I’ve never stepped foot in that building in my life,” Mr. Gibbons said of the pawn shop. “I was shaken.”

Liz Navratil:, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

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