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2 convicted in execution-style killing in California

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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

After more than eight hours of deliberation following eight days of testimony, Michael "Cleveland Mike" Duncan and John Ira Bronson Jr. heard one verdict - guilty on all charges.

Duncan and Bronson face life in prison for the execution-style killing of John Newman outside his California home nearly nine years ago.

Duncan, 34, of Amherst, Ohio, and Bronson, 54, were convicted of criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy to commit homicide in connection with the Feb. 3, 2003, shooting death of Newman. Sentencing will be scheduled later, but the first-degree homicide convictions carry a mandatory term of life in prison. Prosecutors previously announced they would not seek the death penalty.

Bronson is a Monessen native who most recently spent time in a federal penitentiary on a conviction unrelated to the Newman case.

Duncan, Bronson and Howard Irwin of Charleroi were charged a year ago as a result of a Washington County grand jury investigation.

However, last month, Irwin pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony count of hindering apprehension or prosecution and agreed to testify against Bronson and Duncan.

In exchange for his testimony, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the criminal homicide and conspiracy charges against Irwin.

Newman died from a 9 mm gunshot in the head.

Prosecutors allege Newman was a drug addict and street-level dealer who agreed to conduct a controlled drug buy from Bronson.

After Bronson was arrested, he agreed to become a confidential informant for the state police. Instead, prosecutors said, he sought to have Newman killed.

No sentencing date has been scheduled for Irwin, but his attorney, Alan Benyak of Charleroi, previously said the plea arrangement calls for Irwin to be released on time served.

As Bronson and Duncan were led handcuffed from the courtroom, Bronson's mother exclaimed, "I'm not surprised."

"This is Washington County," Bronson replied sarcastically.

Duncan's attorney, David Shrager, said, "Michael, his sister, his mother and I are very disappointed."

Bronson's attorney, Keith Emerick, declined comment.

Assistant District Attorney Darren Newberry said prosecutors were pleased with the verdict, which was returned after a trial that began two weeks ago.

"This was an eight-year investigation by the state police, especially Trooper James Monkelis, who the citizens of Washington County can be very proud of," Newberry said. "Justice has finally been served for Lindsey Newman's father and Brenda Newman's husband."

The accumulation of the 35 witnesses, who were consistent with one another, were key in the prosecution of the case, Newberry said. The jury's long deliberation indicated the six-man, six-woman jury took its responsibility very seriously, he said.

"This was not an easy verdict and it speaks well of what Darren did and what the previous (district attorney) administration did in moving forward with this investigation," said Steve Fisher, chief of staff for the district attorney's office.

"Trooper Monkelis is truly the investigator who stood by this case."

For Newberry, the conviction was a milestone.

"Yes, this was my first homicide case and it was difficult at times, but we put the first case forward," Newberry said. "And, I'm happy with the outcome because the outcome demonstrates the quality of the investigation."

Newberry left one message for the Mon Valley community in which Newman lived.

"Honestly, the one thing that can be said to the town of California is that the state police and the district attorney's office are not going to let a homicide in their town go unsolved," Newberry said. "This investigation was ongoing for nine years, and ultimately those responsible will be punished."

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