Judge throws asst. prosecutor off Youngstown murder case

Local News

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A Mahoning County Common Pleas judge has granted a defense motion to throw an assistant prosecutor off a murder case in Youngstown.

In an opinion released Monday, Judge John Durkin upheld a motion by David Betras to dismiss Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa from prosecuting the aggravated murder case against Lavontae Knight.

Knight is accused of the Oct. 25, 2018 shootings death of Joshua Donatelli, 25, in a home on Imperial Street.

Betras had asked for Cantalamessa to be thrown off the case and have the case dismissed because he contends she did not disclose a video he needs for Knight’s defense in a timely fashion. The video is of a woman who was present when Donatelli was shot and who tried identifying a suspect at a photo lineup in January of 2019. The witness could not pick Knight out of a lineup.

Betras said the video is crucial to his defense because he can claim his client was misidentified, but Cantalamessa did not give it to him in time to help him prepare his defense.

Betras also claimed Cantalamessa misrepresented what was on the video. Prosecutors claimed Cantalamessa was not made aware of the video until May, but the lead detective on the case, Detective Sgt. Michael Lambert, testified Friday he gave the video to the prosecutor’s office soon after the interview.

Judge Durkin wrote in his ruling that Cantalamessa’s actions at best can be described as a “careless indifference to the truth. To leave this conduct unchecked would undermine our system of justice.”

“All I did was tell the court what she said and what the facts were,” Betras said. “The judge felt that she was too cavalier with the process, and so he agreed with me.”

County prosecutor Paul Gains said his office will comply with the court’s order and he has also instructed all prosecutors to confer regularly with police investigators to make sure all materials in a case have been turned over so this does not happen again.

Gains said his office will also investigate to see how no one knew the video had been submitted in January of 2019.

For now, it remains to be seen whether or not the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct will take any action against Cantalamessa. Betras said he won’t pursue it any further.

“I don’t plan on doing anything else other than zealously representing my client,” Betras said.

The judge denied separate motions to dismiss the case and call Cantalamessa as a witness.

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