Judge hears gun arguments in homicide case

A Lawrence County judge will determine whether a gun, reported to have been used during a double homicide, is the same one that was reported stolen from a man’s car in 2016.

Defense attorney Thomas N. Farrell of Pittsburgh, representing homicide suspect Caden Popovich, filed a writ of habeas corpus in his case, seeking to have a firearms-related charge removed from his client’s case. A hearing on the matter took place Tuesday in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge J. Craig Cox. Farrell also asked that the charge be segregated from the other charges in the case.

A write of habeas corpus is used to bring a defendant before the court to determine if the person’s imprisonment or detention is lawful, according to a definition from the Cornell University Law School website. The filings in Lawrence County typically are made and argued before a judge before trial.

Popovich, 21, of New Castle's East Side, is one of two suspects arrested in the Feb. 26, 2018, shooting deaths of Cameron Martwinski and Justin Luca, both of whom were 19. Dohnavin Miller, 21, of 1503 Huron Ave., also is facing homicide charges in the two teens’ deaths. The New Castle police arrested both suspects the day after the shootings, which occurred in a second-floor apartment at 844 Franklin Ave.

The police had searched the homes of both suspects following the Feb. 26 incident and they confiscated guns and ammunition from Popovich’s residence that were consistent with those believed to have been used in the shooting, according to police reports.

The homicide cases are being prosecuted by Deputy Attorney Patrick Schulte, who presented a gun theft victim as a witness Tuesday against Farrell’s filing.

The witness testified that he was in contact with the state police when his gun was stolen from the console of his car, along with a laptop computer and a backpack. The gun was a green-colored custom-made 9 millimeter Glock 19, and a black slide had a “punisher” logo on it, he said. The magazine was on the gun when it disappeared and it was in a holster, he said.

The state police entered the gun as stolen in the National Crime Information Center, he said. Under questioning by Schulte, he said he did not know Popovich except for what he heard about the homicide case, and that he never gave him permission at any time to have his gun.

He said the state police told him his stolen gun had been found and that he wasn’t getting it back because it had been used in a crime. He said he ordered from a website and it  only came in a green color. It was shipped to a local gun store where he had to pick it up and register it, he said. He said he had the gun for more than a year before it was stolen.

Farrell told the judge that the gun was never identified by a serial number in the court hearing. He argued that there was not sufficient evidence that it was the firearm used in the homicide, and the asked that the charge be withdrawn.

Schulte countered that the commonwealth will provide sufficient evidence at trial to prove the defendant guilty as charged of receiving the stolen gun. 

He insisted that the gun issue already has been decided and “we have to get this case tried.”

Popovich is charged with two counts of criminal homicide, three counts of possession of a firearm by a minor and one count each of carrying a gun without a license, receiving stolen property and conspiracy. He is in the Lawrence County jail without bond.

Miller is facing two counts of criminal homicide and one count of conspiracy to commit homicide. He is in the Mercer County jail without bond.

Suspects are considered to be innocent until proven guilty or adjudicated in a court of law.

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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