Detective says he turned over video at heart of sanctions motion in murder case

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The lead detective in a 2018 murder case on Youngstown’s west side testified Friday that he turned over a video of a witness looking at a photo lineup to prosecutors after the interview was completed.

Testifying in a motion for sanctions against prosecutors in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, Mike Lambert said he gave the video of the January 2019 interview of a witness in the Joshua Donatelli case to prosecutors shortly after the interview was completed.

David Betras, lead counsel for 26-year-old Lavontae Knight who is accused of aggravated murder for Donatelli’s death, contends he did not learn of the video in a timely fashion and he was misled about it by Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa.

Betras filed motions asking for the charges to be dismissed or for new prosecutors to be assigned.

A hearing on those motions was heard June 18 but was continued after prosecutors at that hearing wanted to call Lambert as a witness so he could explain the chain of custody of the video. The break was to allow Betras, as well as Judge Durkin, to study Lambert’s personnel file, which Betras had requested in case he needed it to help in his cross examination.

Knight is accused of the Oct. 25, 2018 shooting death of 25-year-old Joshua Donatelli in a home on Imperial Street on the lower west side.

Co-defendant 31-year-old George Gutierres pleaded guilty Dec. 27 to an amended charge of attempted possession of cocaine after originally being charged with involuntary manslaughter. A plea agreement in the case calls for a four-year sentence with Gutierres allowed to apply for judicial release after he serves six months.

Knight is set for trial Aug. 28. He is also charged with an unrelated murder for a Dec. 30, 2018 shooting death.

At issue was a video of an interview of a witness who was in the home when Donatelli was shot. The witness could not pick Knight out of a lineup and Lambert told her on the video her identification was not good and could not be used.

Betras said he was not aware of the video until earlier this year when his client was expected to go on trial. He said the video is crucial to his defense because he can use it to claim his client was misidentified.

Lambert said he turned it over to prosecutors shortly after the interview, and after the witness called prosecutors and said she had changed her mind and recognized Knight, he made a second copy and turned it over again.

Lambert was adamant that he turned it over the first time, saying once it is turned over to prosecutors it is up to them to keep track of evidence. He said after a question by Judge Durkin, he is sure he turned it over because that is the way he works.

“I have no doubt I brought it to them,” Lambert said. “It bothers me to let it sit.”

He did not, however, have an exact date or time and a receipt was not provided to him when he dropped it off.

Betras said prosecutors were getting ready to go to trial and had the video and did not tell him about it.

Judge Durkin said he will study the law and arguments, and hopes to issue a ruling shortly.

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