A murder trial for two suspects accused of shooting and killing two teens in 2018 is set for October in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas.

Prosecutors from the state Office of the Attorney General and defense attorneys for Caden Michael Popovich and Dohnavin Miller all agreed in court Wednesday on setting Oct. 12 as the date to begin jury selection, with the trial to take place that week and the following week or two in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas.

Common Pleas Judge J. Craig Cox is presiding over the case and agreed to the schedule.

Popovich, 21, and Miller, 21, are charged with criminal homicide in the Feb. 25, 2018, shooting deaths of Cameron Martwinski and Justin Luca. The two men, both 19, were fatally shot inside an apartment in a house on Franklin Avenue on New Castle's East Side.

Popovich and Miller were within two weeks of their 18th birthdays when the shooting occurred, and they are charged as adults.

Miller initially was charged by New Castle police with criminal homicide in connection with Luca's death, but later evidence from ballistics testing led the state attorney general's office to file additional charges against him in Martwinski's death of criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy to commit criminal homicide.

Popovich is facing two counts of criminal homicide in the deaths of both victims. 

A state police ballistics expert testified in a court hearing last year that bullets from two different guns killed Martwinski. The expert, who examined the ballistics in the case, testified that four bullets struck Martwinski — two 9-millimeter bullets that hit him in the side and a .380 caliber bullet that struck him in the head.

Martwinski, who lived on Scotland Lane in Union Township, and Luca, who lived in Neshannock Township, were shot to death during an argument they reportedly were having with Popovich, formerly of Gretchen Avenue, and Miller, formerly of Huron Ave.

Popovich is in the Lawrence County jail and Miller is confined to the Mercer County jail. Both have been in jail without bond since their arrests on Feb. 27, 2018.

Popovich is being represented in court by defense attorney Thomas N. Farrell of Pittsburgh. Miller's defense attorney is Steven C. Townsend of Pittsburgh.

Deputy Attorney General Alicia Sutton Werner was in court Wednesday for the attorney general's office, but told the judge that Patrick Schulte will be the main prosecutor in the case. 

Farrell in 2019 had petitioned the court for a change of venire, attempting to bring in an unbiased jury from out of town. The judge denied that request on March 25 last year.

Farrell on Wednesday petitioned the court, based on recent case law, to require the prosecuting attorneys to summon a witness to testify that the gun that Popovich had that night was stolen. Arguments on that petition will be heard in early June, Cox said. 

A status conference will be held in court at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 30 to determine whether there are any more outstanding issues before the case proceeds to trial.

The double defendant trial initially was scheduled for May last year, but was postponed while the courts were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminal trials are resuming in the Lawrence County courts this month. 

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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