Man found guilty of killing of teen robbery accomplice
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An Allegheny County jury convicted a Brighton Heights man Wednesday of second-degree murder for accidentally shooting his teenaged friend in the back during a 2009 robbery.
Earl Hawkins, 19, faces a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June.
"We are disappointed in the outcome of the trial," his lawyer, Blaine Jones, said. "When you look at it, though -- bigger picture -- two families have been devastated, and it's just a complete shame."
Jurors deliberated for seven hours after Mr. Hawkins's trial, which began April 12 before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani. They found him guilty of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, robbery and other counts for the death of 16-year-old James "Mister" Owens.
"I'm just happy it's done and it's over with," said Alma Washington, Mr. Owens' mother, after the verdict.
"It's a long time coming," Mr. Owens' grandmother said, declining to give her name. "He should be graduating this year."
According to police, Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Owens and a third man, Jaimie Glozzer, robbed a neighborhood acquaintance, Brandon Sheetz, on March 1, 2009. Mr. Sheetz testified that when masked assailants appeared at his doorstep, he knocked a gun out of one man's hand, then punched the man, who tumbled down the stairs.
Mr. Sheetz fell down the stairs after him, and as Mr. Sheetz stood up, he was shot in the leg, he said.
Prosecutor Robert Schupansky said that while Mr. Hawkins was shooting at Mr. Sheetz, he also fatally wounded Mr. Owens.
Mr. Hawkins was arrested the day of the crime, but his charges were later withdrawn. He was re-arrested that May, taken into custody in a white tuxedo after he fled from police at the Schenley High School prom.
Mr. Hawkins' lawyer claimed his client was not at the robbery, and two witnesses testified Mr. Hawkins was with them that evening: Mr. Hawkins' mother, and an acquaintance, Cordell Brown, who is jailed for another crime. Mr. Jones urged the jury to question the role of Mr. Glozzer, now 22, who testified against Mr. Hawkins, and is expected to plead guilty to lesser charges.
Ultimately, the jury chose to believe several prosecution witnesses, who testified that they had watched Mr. Glozzer and Mr. Hawkins plan the robbery together, pick up Mr. Owens at his house and then return without him, panicked and sweating.
Mr. Sheetz testified that he later received a handwritten letter claiming to be from Mr. Glozzer, saying Mr. Hawkins had nothing to do with the robbery. That letter was actually a desperate attempt by Mr. Hawkins to pin the killing on his co-defendant, Mr. Schupansky said.
Seizing notes passed by Mr. Hawkins in jail, prosecutors discovered that one had indentations on it matching a draft of the letter to Mr. Sheetz.
Those marks indicate that the draft was written on the same notepad as the jail note, an expert witness testified. She analyzed the handwriting, as well, she said: It strongly matched Mr. Hawkins' handwriting.
Correction/Clarification: (Published April 22, 2011) Jaimie Glozzer, a Brighton Heights man facing charges in the death of a robbery accomplice, is 22 years old. Stories on Tuesday and Wednesday gave an incorrect age.
First Published April 21, 2011 12:00 am