Penn Hills man sentenced to up to 35 years in prison for drive-by killing
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As he was sentenced to several decades of prison time for murder yesterday, a Penn Hills man maintained his innocence and his family vowed to appeal.
Despite affectionate testimony from a slew of family members and friends who packed the courtroom, 19-year-old Joseph Hall was sentenced to 171/2 to 35 years in prison for the drive-by killing of 17-year-old James Stubbs near Westinghouse High School in December 2006.
Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman said Mr. Hall's conviction for third-degree murder by a jury in November was merciful, because he easily could have been given first-degree murder and an automatic life sentence.
"You went there to execute Mr. Stubbs," Judge Cashman said. "It was a designed, deliberate, cold-blooded execution."
Mr. Hall's co-defendant, Lamont Hall, 20, of East Liberty, was acquitted of murder charges and convicted of illegal possession of a firearm. Judge Cashman sentenced Lamont Hall to two to four years. Because he has been incarcerated for more than two years, he's now eligible for parole.
The Halls are not related.
Judge Cashman's sentence for Joseph Hall wasn't the maximum, but the defendant and his family maintain he shouldn't have been convicted at all and was wronged by the justice system.
Joseph Hall's mother, Cecilia Coleman, accused prosecutors of "errors and deception" in bringing the case, and her son agreed in addressing the judge.
"Even though I was charged and convicted, I am truly innocent," Mr. Hall said.
Paul Gettleman, a defense attorney hired by the Hall family after the trial, indicated that he would appeal the conviction.
The trial of the two men took many twists and turns, as the prosecution's key witness -- the driver, Allen Strothers -- changed his story and said the Halls were innocent. Mr. Strothers was jailed for contempt of court, having contradicted previous sworn testimony, which he claimed was "coached" by several homicide detectives.
Jurors sided with Mr. Strothers' prior testimony and statements to detectives that Joseph Hall fired the fatal bullets from his car, then celebrated later when he learned Mr. Stubbs was dead.
The celebration is what Daniel Fitzsimmons, chief trial deputy for the district attorney, seized upon in asking for a lengthy sentence.
He also called Mr. Stubbs' parents to the stand. His mother, Nancy Zanders-Stubbs, said she had suffered three strokes since the killing. She has trouble speaking and getting around.
"I miss my son dearly," she said, trembling. "He was good to me. He took care of me. And now I have to deal with this."
Mr. Stubbs' father, also named James Stubbs, acknowledged the crowd that testified on Joseph Hall's behalf. More than 10 friends and family members had come forward to talk about the compassionate nature and singing talent of the kid they knew as "Jo-Jo." They also pointed out that Mr. Hall has an expansive support system available when he is released from prison.
"All these people are painting a certain type of character," Mr. Stubbs said.
"If it was all like that, why are we all here? ... Why is my son in the ground?"
First Published February 20, 2009 1:12 am