Judge delays ruling after hearing over attorney misconduct in Youngstown murder case

Local News

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Judge John Durkin said he needs to review the personnel files of a city detective assigned to a murder case before deciding if the prosecutor on that case should be removed or if the case should be dismissed.

The judge made his remarks following a hearing in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court where Dave Betras — attorney for 26-year-old Lavonte Knight, of Youngstown, who is charged with an October 2018 shooting death on the west side — asked that Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa either be removed from prosecuting the case or that the case be dismissed altogether.

Betras accused of Cantalamessa of withholding material from him under the Brady rule that could help his client’s defense. The Brady rule, named after a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1963, said prosecutors are obligated to turn over any evidence they may have that may be favorable to a defendant.

“I have never been that bamboozled in a court of law,” Betras said.

Arguing for the prosecution, Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer McLaughlin said all of the materials Betras requested were eventually turned over to him. She said Judge Durkin knew of that because he granted several continuances in the case, requested by Betras so he could review the materials to prepare his defense.

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

A co-defendant, George Gutierres, 31, who 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 in the hearing was an interview detectives had with a woman who was in the home when Donatelli was shot. Betras said Cantalamessa misrepresented that and he did not receive it in a timely fashion.

Betras claimed Cantalemessa told him the video was not important because the witness did not say anything that could help his client and he also did not receive it in a timely fashion.

Betras played a portion of the video for the judge when the witness was going through a photo lineup to try to identify who was in the home. Detective Sgt. Michael Lambert, the lead investigator on the case, said in the video that he wasn’t confident in her identification of Knight.

“Honestly, your identification isn’t there,” Lambert said in the video.

Betras said that is crucial to his defense because with the video, he can argue to a jury that his client was misidentified. He said that is something that should have been turned over to him immediately and Cantalamessa lied about what the witness said.

McLaughlin wanted to introduce Lambert as a witness to explain why the video was not submitted for evidence earlier, but Betras objected, saying he had no access to Lambert’s personnel file, which he would need to study his background so he could cross-examine him.

Betras also said Cantalamessa was biased against him but McLaughlin told the judge Betras never offered any proof of that. Betras said the misconduct was so great in the case, it proves she has a bias against him.

Judge Durkin said he would read Lambert’s personnel file and decide if he needs to be called as a witness. Attorneys will also argue over text messages and emails between Lambert and Cantalamessa that Betras requested the judge read. A date for that hearing has not been set yet, but that’s expected soon.

Prosecutor Paul Gains was on hand for the hearing, as was Donatelli’s family.

Judge Durkin did deny a request to allow Betras to call Cantalamessa as a witness if a trial is held.

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