A Lawrence County Common Pleas judge has denied the request to bring in an outside jury for the trial of two suspects accused in a double shooting death.
Caden Michael Popovich, 20, and Dohnavin Miller, 20, both remain in the Lawrence County jail without bail, awaiting trial on two counts each of criminal homicide and other related charges. They were arrested in the Feb. 28, 2018 shooting deaths of Cameron Martwinski and Justin Luca in an apartment house on Franklin Avenue. Both victims were 19 years old.
Martwinski was the son of a county investigator in the Lawrence County district attorney’s office. Luca’s grandfather, who has died since the shooting occurred, was a retired state trooper. Popovich’s father was a principal in the New Castle Area School District, but resigned in January 2019 after 23 1/2 years with the district.
Because of the recent outbreak of coronavirus, the Lawrence County courthouse is closed, and all jury trials are postponed at least until May, under orders of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Judge J. Craig Cox has denied the change of venire and seven other requests that were part of a pre-trial motion filed by Popovich’s defense attorney, Thomas N. Farrell of Pittsburgh.
Cox denied a request to sever Popovich’s case from Miller’s.
The judge granted only one of the nine requests — that the complete criminal records of Popovich, his co-defendant Dohnavin Miller, and any civilian witnesses in the case be provided to the attorneys and the court.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Alicia Sutton Werner.
In his March 25 order, Cox’s reason for denying the change of venire was based on 13 newspaper articles about the murder of the victims, all of contained objective factual developments of the case and investigation, or a summary of the procedural process of the case, he wrote. Also provided by the defense was a Facebook post from Feb. 27 by the New Castle police, informing of the double homicide. Cox reasoned that the newspaper articles and the police post contain only factual allegations and do not have any comments about the guilt or innocence of the defendant.
The pretrial publicity is not so pervasive and prejudicial as to prevent the ability to select a fair and impartial jury, Cox concluded. He noted in the order that he is willing to revisit the issue if it appears during trial time that an impartial jury cannot be chosen.
The other requests that are denied include:
•That statements Popovich made to his father after his arraignment, before he was taken to jail, and overheard by a police officer who remained in the room, should be suppressed. Cox determined that because the father and son were in a small waiting room and young Popovich knew the officer was there, that he waived any privilege when he spoke freely with his father in his presence.
•That evidence from Popovich’s cell phone be suppressed. According to the court paper, the police investigating were led to two cell phones found in the garbage can outside of his house, and the police obtained two search warrants to seize them and search for incoming and outgoing calls and other information. That was after a witness told police that he had seen Popovich using his cell phone during the Feb. 25 events. Cox concluded there is a fair probability that evidence of criminal activity would be found on the cell phone.