YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A retired Youngstown homicide detective testified Tuesday that he did not show a photo array to a witness in a murder case to identify a suspect because she already knew the suspect.
Former police Lt. Doug Bobovnyik testified in a suppression hearing in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. He said the witness also told him that the victim, Brandon Wylie, 30, was at a Plaza View apartment with the three men charged in his murder a short time before he was shot to death.
One of those defendants, Brian Donlow, 24, is challenging an impromptu photo lineup that Bobovnyik showed the witness that identified Donlow as being at the crime scene.
Two other men, including Stephon Hopkins, 22, are also charged with the death of Wylie. He died just after midnight June 19, 2018, after he was shot in a courtyard at Plaza View.
John P. Laczko, the attorney for Donlow, is asking Judge Anthony D’Apolito to throw out the witness’ identification of Donlow because of a group of photos Bobovnyik showed the witness that did not adhere to state guidelines for showing photos to witnesses.
Bobovnyik said he interviewed several witnesses in the case but only one of them said Hopkins and Donlow were suspects after he had passed along scuttlebutt he had heard on the streets.
Bobovnyik said he interviewed a witness June 21, 2018 at her home, and she told Bobovnyik who was present just before Wylie was killed. One of those people was Donlow, according to the witness.
However, there are four half brothers all named Donlow with some variation of Brian in their name, Bobovnyik testified.
Bobovnyik had photos of all four men with him and asked the witness if she knew which one of them was present before the shooting, and she picked out the defendant.
Laczko said Bobovnyik failed to follow state guidelines where an investigator who is not involved in the case shows a witness a series of photos and asks the witness to identify them. That is done so an investigator does not exhibit any bias toward one person or another, Laczko said.
Laczko also said there were notes on the photos, which were photos from the state law enforcement database, detailing criminal convictions for the men, but Assistant Prosecutor Michael Yacovone said those were traffic charges and not criminal convictions.
Yacovone said the guidelines are not a requirement and that Bobovnyik did not follow them because the witness he was speaking to knew the defendant as opposed to someone who was trying to identify a person they never met or knew.
Bobovnyik also said he tried to get the witness to come to the police station for a more formal interview, but she declined that day and she was avoiding police after that.
“I was lucky she was talking to me,” Bobovnyik said.