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February 27, 2014

Defendant enters guilty plea as jury deliberates

NEW CASTLE — A man facing a possible death sentence pleaded guilty and was sentenced while a jury deliberated his fate.

DeAngelo Mercer, 24, of 322 Halco Drive pleaded guilty Tuesday night to criminal homicide, murder in the third degree. He was immediately sentenced by Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto to serve nine to 18 years in a state correctional institution with credit for 630 days served.

Mercer also was sentenced to serve several years on probation. That includes one year of state-supervised probation on each of two guilty pleas to a charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and two years of state-supervised probation following guilty pleas to two counts of receiving stolen property.

The sentences on the two drug possession charges will be served concurrently, but the probation is to be served consecutively to the murder sentence.

The two-year probation sentences on each of two counts of receiving stolen property pleas will be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to all the other sentences.

The probationary sentences further required Mercer to forfeit $223, pay lab fees of $289, forfeit any contraband in the possession of the commonwealth and pay a $100 assessment fee to the substance abuse education and demand reduction fund on the drug charges.

On the receiving stolen property charge, the judge ordered that $637 in possession of the commonwealth be forfeited to the Lawrence County District Attorney Drug Task Force and that two firearms, the subject of the proceedings, be forfeited to the commonwealth. Both will be destroyed.

His sentences also include paying costs of prosecution and providing a DNA sample.

Mercer was initially charged with criminal homicide and two counts each of aggravated and simple assault following the death of Arnold Eugene Miller, 46, of the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh.

New Castle police said Miller died Feb. 24, 2012, of gunshot wounds to the head, abdomen and pelvis. His body was then burned in a fire set in a second floor apartment at 309 Philips St.

Jury selection for the case began Feb. 10 and stretched to Feb. 18. Because the case could have involved the death penalty, a jury of 12 members and four alternates was seated.

The trial began Feb. 19. Mercer was defended by court-appointed attorney John J. Bongivengo. Prosecuting the case were assistant district attorneys Thomas W. Minett and Jessica Barson.

Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa said the case went to the jury about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Jurors considered homicide charges, which included murder in the first degree and murder in the third degree.

About 7 p.m. Tuesday, after deliberating for several hours, the jury returned with a question regarding first- and third-degree murder charges.

Soon after that, while the jury was still deliberating, Mercer, with advice of his counsel, entered a guilty plea — to third-degree murder — and asked to be sentenced immediately.

The sentence, imposed by Motto, had been negotiated as part of the plea.

Had the jury reached a verdict of guilty to murder in the first degree, it would have been called back to consider the penalty phase, which could have included the death penalty.

Lamancusa noted the assault charges had been withdrawn prior to the trial.

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