Killings by 5 ex-cons spur parole review, changes

Keith Burley Jr., accused in the murder of Markie Edward Mason, is one of five ex-cons who police say committed murder between March and July. The Department of Corrections said yesterday it is reviewing the 34,000 cases of people who are free on parole.

In the case of Keith L. Burley, both the defense and Lawrence County District Attorney's Office agree a murder took place July 8 in Union Township that claimed the life of 8-year-old Mark "Markie" Edward Mason Jr.

The defense, however, contests the evidence doesn't implicate Burley and is based on hearsay. Burley is currently housed in the Lawrence County jail on charges, including criminal homicide, aggravated assault and kidnapping in Mason's death in which autopsy records show the boy died after suffering more than 140 stab wounds to the neck at the home of an acquaintance at 60 High St. Eleven other charges of aggravated assault and terroristic threats were withdrawn. 

Burley pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday in Central Court.

Burley was released from prison in March after serving the minimum sentence from a 1999 third-degree murder charge in the shooting death of 36-year-old Randall Stewart in the Halco Drive area. Burley also has a conviction for having stabbed an inmate in the neck in the Lawrence County jail in 2002. Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa is seeking the death penalty for Burley.

Attorney Thomas N. Farrell, of Farrell & Associates in Pittsburgh, moved to have all charges dismissed, but Senior District Judge David B. Rishel said he is holding over all charges, including the kidnapping charges, and was allowing hearsay during the hearing. Farrell opened the hearing with an objection and then later a continuing objection on the basis David Naberezny, a state police trooper based at the New Castle barracks who was on call the evening of July 8, would simply by testifying to what witnesses said during police interviews that he was present for.

"I believe this entire case is going to be on hearsay testimony," Farrell said.

"Some of it is hearsay," Farrell said later. "Some of it is triple hearsay. Some of it is double hearsay."

Timeline: Fatal stabbing claims life of 8-year-old boy in Union Township

Naberezny was the sole witness cross-examined by attorneys and much of his testimony was from information relayed from police interviews conducted with Mason's mother Maram Saada, Mason's 7-year-old brother and two boys, aged 15 and seven, who lived at 60 High St. in Union Township.

After taking questions from Luanne Parkonen, the first assistant district attorney for the county, Farrell began cross-examination. Naberezny testified several municipalities were involved with the events of that night, which started as a verbal argument between Burley and Saada, his girlfriend at the time, at a South Side gas station over who would fill up the car with gasoline while Mason and his 7-year-old brother were also in the car.

The argument continued as Saada drove and Burley bit and punched her eye, according to Naberezny, to the New Castle Fire Department, when Saada exited the car and ran to an open bay door for help. While firefighters dispatched 911 on their radios, Burley drove away in the car with the two boys in the back and drove to 60 High St.

Farrell's questioning at this time moved to asking Naberezny if he knew the two boys had been swimming earlier that day with Burley and that he babysat the boys approximately five times. Farrell said only Saada testified that Burley said at the fire department he was kidnapping the boys.

"Everything the Commonwealth has presented is speculation," Farrell said.

At 60 High St., Burley parked the car outside the house and walked in with the two boys. The house was the home of a woman who carpooled to work with Burley. There, a 7-year-old boy looked downstairs and saw the three.

"He was crazy," the 7-year-old boy said in describing Burley's demeanor, Naberezny testified. "He was screaming at them to find a (gun) clip."

Burley went into a first-floor bedroom to get a gun then went back into the bedroom to retrieve a pink camouflage knife while still yelling for the boys two find the clip. The 15-year-old boy at the home came downstairs and saw Burley.

"He was looking for the clip and was hitting the victim, but when he saw blood and (Mason) fell to the floor, he realized (Burley) was stabbing him," Naberezny said.

The three boys fled the scene while Burley ended up in Ohio. He was apprehended the next morning in Youngstown, Ohio, by U.S. Marshals after an overnight manhunt wearing the same bloodied shirt, pants, shoes and hat as the night before.

Farrell and Rachael Santoriella, of her own law office who is also working on the case, declined comment after the hearing. Messages left for Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa were not immediately returned.

psirianni@ncnewonline.com

Digital editor

Pete Sirianni is the News' digital editor. Previously, he worked at The Bradford (Pa.) Era. Sirianni is a 2016 IUP graduate, earning a degree in journalism and public relations. Contact him at psirianni@ncnewsonline.com or on Twitter at @PeterSirianni.

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