WEST CHESTER — A jury hearing the murder case of a Coatesville man who tried to plead guilty to charges involving a city man’s death acquitted him Monday. It was a stunning setback for the deceased’s relatives who had demanded that the defendant be tried for their loved one’s death.
The Common Pleas Court jury in the case of Joshua J. “Jizz” McMillan deliberated for about 4½ hours before returning its verdict of not guilty on all charges at 8:25 p.m. in the Chester County Justice Center.
McMillan, 32, had been charged with first- and third-degree murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy and related offenses in the 2006 shooting death of Brian Keith Brown in an alleged revenge shooting on the city’s North Side streets.
McMillan, who is being held on other, unrelated charges, was returned to Chester County Prison on a court detainer.
The verdict was a rejection of the prosecution’s case that McMillan had acted as an accomplice in the death of Brown, who was killed because of his association with city crime figure Duron “Gotti” Peoples, alleged to have shot at rival Jonas “Sonny” Suber. In his defense, McMillan’s attorney contended that the witnesses against him were not to be believed and that no concrete evidence could tie him to Brown’s death.
“There is no evidence that (McMillan) did anything,” West Chester attorney Michael Skinner told the six men and six women on the jury panel during his closing argument. “No evidence. Josh McMillan is not the perpetrator. It sounds good, but there is no evidence.”
He stressed that the case against his client amounted to “guilt by association” because he was present when Brown was shot by a friend of Suber’s outside a city funeral home. “The commonwealth’s theory of the case does not hold water. Josh McMillan had nothing at all to do with it.”
What the jury panel did not know is that in August McMillan had agreed to plead guilty to aggravated assault charges stemming from Brown’s death in exchange for a sentence of 8 ½ to 18 years in state prison.
But the judge who oversaw that attempted plea and the trial that began last week, William P. Mahon, refused to accept it because of the objections of Brown’s family. His mother, sister, and teenage daughter told the judge they considered the proposed sentence too lenient.
At the time Mahon had cautioned members of Brown’s family that if the case were to go to trial McMillan could conceivably be found not guilty of the charges against him and freed from custody. The family said they were willing to take that chance.
Skinner’s defense case revolved around the disputed credibility of the witnesses against McMillan — former friends who were facing their own legal difficulties and who he said had lied to investigators in the early stages of the case and who had testified as part of arrangements to lessen their own sentences in unrelated federal prosecutions.
The men who took the stand against McMillan “all had something in it,” Skinner said. “They all got something out of it.”
The prosecution witnesses had placed McMillan at the scene of Brown’s murder, in front of a funeral home on Merchant Street at Seventh Avenue in the city at 3:05 a.m. on April 1. 2006. But Skinner said no one had reliably been able to say that McMillan knew what the gunman in the convicted murderer, Terry Jermaine “T.J.” Gardner, planned to do to Brown.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Ronald Yen urged the jurors to find McMillan guilty of participating in the plot to kill Brown as part of the “tit-for-tat” that is the code of the street in urban areas like Coatesville.
“Nobody went to the police,” Yen said. “This is what the ‘boys from the barbershop’ do,” referring to Suber’s family and associates. “He knew about it. He approved it. He’s guilty.”
Brown was killed after Suber’s associates were unable to track down Peoples, who they blamed for allegedly firing a shot at Suber about 2 o’clock that morning as he sat in his white Cadillac outside a city nightclub. Peoples and Suber were warring over a woman the two had dated.
“He got killed because he was friend with Duron Peoples,” Yen said of Brown, a 29-year-old father of three who had been recently released from state prison for an earlier attack on McMillan’s brother. Yen had argued that Brown’s attack had also given McMillan extra incentive to shoot him the night of his death.
McMillan is the third man to be tried on charges of murder for Brown’s death on. Suber’s brother, Odell “Zelly” Cannon and Terrence Jermaine “T.J.” Gardener, the gunman who shot Brown four times, were both found guilty in earlier proceedings, with Gardener sentenced to life in prison for his role.
Suber was shot to death in October 2006 at his home on South Walnut Street in Coatesville, allegedly on Peoples’ orders and in retribution for Brown’s death. Jeremiah Bush of Philadelphia is scheduled to be tried in that case next week.
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