Aliquippa man gets two life terms for 2008 double murder

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A man found guilty last month in the 2008 execution-style murder of a Beaver County couple was sentenced Thursday to two consecutive life terms, plus an additional 17 to 34 years, all to be served on top of the 34 to 68 years he was already serving on gang-related charges.

The sentence for Devon Shealey, 28 of Aliquippa, handed down by Common Pleas Judge John P. Dohanich, was the culmination of a four-year investigation that involved local, state and federal authorities.

On June 30, 2008, Shealey, allegedly joined by Robert Lamont Burgess, 37, entered the home of Richard and Demetria Harper, both 32. After locking the couple‘‍s daughters -- aged 8 and 10 at the time -- in the basement, authorities say Shealey and Burgess bound the couple and shot them in the head. The bodies were discovered by Mr. Harper’‍s sister, Joanne Vaughn.

“To say it was a heinous crime would be an understatement,” said Jennifer Popovich, the Assistant District Attorney in Beaver County who, along with her fellow assistant district attorney Justin Quinn, prosecuted the case.

Stressing the trauma experienced by the couple‘‍s children, Ms. Popovich lauded the sentence and said it “reflects the magnitude of what happened. She and Mr. Quinn will try to close the case for good in October when they prosecute Burgess.

Ms. Vaughn, along with the two daughters, testified at Shealey‘‍s trial. The daughters now live with their grandmother outside the state.

Prosecutors said that Shealey and Burgess targeted the couple because of a drug-related dispute. Shealey, Burgess and Mrs. Harper planned to sell marijuana together, with Mrs. Harper purchasing an original package of between 15 and 20 pounds in El Paso, Texas, according to court documents.

But Mrs. Harper was arrested while in Texas and was not able to bring the drug back to Pennsylvania. The prosecution claimed that Shealey and Burgess accused Mrs. Harper of stealing their money, and hatched the murderous plot. 

Dirk Goodwald, the Beaver County public defender who represents Shealey, said they will appeal the conviction. Shealey has maintained his innocence.

”We believe that there are inconsistencies in the verdict,“ Mr. Goodwald said Wednesday. He noted that Shealey was found guilty of second degree murder, but not guilty of carrying a firearm without a permit — and not carrying the firearm would have made it impossible to commit the slaying.

”That’‍s illogical,“ said Mr. Goodwald, who called it a ”blatant“ inconsistency.

Pennsylvania law allows for a murder conviction of an accomplice who is present during the crime, even if that individual does not pull the trigger.

Mr. Goodwald further argued that witness descriptions — from one of the daughters and a neighbor — fit with Burgess, but not Shealey. Mr. Goodwald said Shealey is 5-foot-11 and and 175 pounds, so he cannot be the ”short and stout“ accomplice that witnesses described.

 


Matt Nussbaum, mnussbaum@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1504 or on Twitter @MatthewNussbaum First Published July 17, 2014 12:00 AM


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