An attorney representing the suspect in the July 19 killing of a teen outside of a pizza shop is seeking to have a gag order placed on the police, attorneys and others who have any connection with the case.
Wendy L. Williams of Pittsburgh appeared at a hearing before Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge J. Craig Cox Thursday to argue her request, filed in the form of a motion in court on Sept. 9. Williams said her main concern is that comments made by police and others on social media, namely Facebook, about the case, could be prejudicial to a jury.
She is seeking an order to limit the dissemination of information by the attorneys, their agents, employees and law enforcement investigators, personnel and employees, witnesses and all court personnel concerning the case, according to the motion she filed in court.
She is representing 41-year-old Michael J. D’Biagio of Beaver Falls, who is facing criminal homicide and aggravated assault charges in the shooting death of 17-year-old Darren Jevcak of New Castle.
Jevcak was an employee of a Highland Avenue pizza shop and was leaving the store around 5:25 p.m. when D’Biagio appproached him, pointed a gun at him and shot him, according to information in a criminal complaint filed by the New Castle police. D’Biagio told the police that Jevcak had gotten his daughter involved in using drugs, the paperwork stated.
Williams’ motion stated that her intent is to limit pretrial publicity. She cited the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct and other case law to support her request.
She wrote that “because of the extensive pretrial negative publicity and continued anticipated publicity, this order is necessary to help preserve and protect, to any extent that it might be possible at this stage of the proceedings, Mr. D’Biagio’s right to a trial by jury and right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury.”
She told the judge at the hearing that her motion particularly pertains to comments made about D’Biagio on social media.
“We don’t want the jury to be influenced by statements by police on social media,” she said.
At the hearing Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Miller, who is prosecuting the case, countered that the attorneys already abide by a law that prohibits them from talking to the media about details in such cases. He said he is unaware of any police making comments about the case on social media.
“I have no issue with complying under the rules of professional conduct regarding statements to the public or the press, as we do in every case, judge,” Miller said. Thus, he has no problem with the court issuing an order under those rules, he said.
“As to the police making statements, I’ve not seen anywhere that the police have made comments that could be prejudicial,” Miller said, adding, “To date, I’ve haven’t seen any evidence of that.”
As to limiting others, he said he can advise potential witnesses not to make comments in public, “but I don’t think we can limit that.”
He noted that the prosecution does not even know for certain yet who the potential trial witnesses will be, so the district attorney’s office cannot advise them not to talk about the case. He added that he has issues with having to restrict people from freedom of speech.
He pointed out that a publicized public candlelight vigil held downtown for the victim could, in a sense, be taken as prejudicial.
Miller suggested that the judge “take a closer look at such a vague request.”
Cox advised the attorneys that he will review the case and make a ruling later.
And while Williams is concerned about prejudice during the trial, the New Castle police reported that D’Biagio admitted to them during questioning that he shot Jevcak “five or six times” in the parking lot of Scustie’s Pizza Shop at 1101 Highland Ave. New Castle police were called to the pizza shop to find Jevcak on the ground, bleeding and unresponsive.
Police reported that during questioning, D’Biagio said he had been learning all week about the relationship between his daughter and Jevcak.
According to an account provided to the police by an eyewitness, D’Biagio pointed a gun Jevcak then shot at him, causing Jevcak to fall to the ground. D’Biagio then walked closer to the boy and shot him again, according to the complaint.
The police arrested him at the scene.
Miller said after the hearing that a defense attorney filing such a motion in the court is unusual.
Members of Jevcak’s family attended the court proceeding but declined comment afterward.
Before the hearing commenced, while the attorneys were conferring in chambers with the judge and he was guarded by sheriff deputies in the courtroom, D’Biagio suddenly uttered, “I’m sorry,” and looked down at his lap.
He did not indicate to whom the apology was directed or why, nor did he add any further comment.