Lawyer fights murder conviction, saying client’s identification by police was ‘questionable’

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Stephon Hopkins, charged with murder in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – One of two men convicted for a July 2018 shooting death on Youngstown’s east side said in an appeal his conviction should be overturned because a video showing him at the crime scene should not have been entered into evidence.

Stephon Hopkins, 23, filed his appeal Friday in the Seventh District Court of Appeals.

Besides the video, he also lists three other instances in the trial in which errors were committed that should overturn his murder conviction in the June 19, 2018 shooting death of 31-year-old Brandon Wylie in the Plaza View apartment complex.

Brian Donlow, 30, was also convicted with Hopkins.

The pair were convicted in February 2020 following a trial in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court before Judge Anthony D’Apolito. They were both sentenced to 21 years to life in prison.

Appellate Counsel Lou DeFabio writes in his brief that Judge D’Apolito abused his discretion by allowing the video identification of Hopkins by Youngstown Police Detective Sgt. Michael Lambert.

Lambert, who was not the lead detective on the case, nevertheless testified for the prosecution that he helped identify both defendants on security video, which captured the shooting.

DeFabio contends the video is of poor quality but during the trial, Lambert testified he was able to identify both men because he was familiar with their mannerisms, including how they walked, because he had dealt with them in the past.

DeFabio said there is nothing unique about the way his client walks and the identification was crucial in helping jurors convict his client.

DeFabio also said the conviction should be overturned because a witness was excused in the middle of the trial for an undisclosed reason and the trial judge did not hold a hearing or inform counsel for both parties that the juror was being excused until the excusal took place. That deprived Hopkins of a right to a fair trial by a jury because his trial attorney was not able to question the juror to see if they should have been excused.

DeFabio also said a photo lineup conducted by detectives was conducted “suggestively,” leading to what he called a questionable identification of his client and that should be thrown out as well.

Prosecutors have yet to respond.

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