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Charges Dismissed Against 1 Of 2 In Cookout Ambush Slayings

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and investigators survey the Wilkinsburg home where five adults, including a pregnant woman, were killed.

A judge has dismissed the charges against one of two men accused of killing five adults, including a pregnant woman, at a western Pennsylvania cookout almost four years ago.

*This story was updated on Monday, Feb. 3 at 11:17 a.m.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski on Monday granted a defense motion to dismiss the case against 31-year-old Robert Thomas in the March 2016 killings in Pittsburgh's Wilkinsburg suburb.

The defense sought dismissal after prosecutors decided against putting a key witness on the stand. Defense attorneys said the witness had offered testimony in other cases, was alleged to have confessed to a role in a 2013 drive-by shooting that killed a 15-month-old boy, and had been offered relocation and financial assistance.

The judge noted that prosecutors had attempted to use three cooperating jailhouse witnesses, but were left with none in the end. "They are treacherous waters, we know that from experience," he said.

Testimony was expected to begin Monday against 33-year-old Cheron Shelton. Authorities had alleged that Thomas opened fire on one side and Shelton then gunned down victims running onto a porch for safety. Prosecutors have said they plan to seek capital punishment in the event of a first-degree murder conviction.

Prosecutors allege that the target, who survived the gunfire, was a person Shelton believed was involved in the 2013 murder of a friend. The defense has contended that no physical evidence links the two men to the crime scene. Prosecutors alleged that cellphone data shows them in communication as well as in the area at the time.

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