Lower Burrell man to stand trial on gun charges

Chuck Biedka
| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 8:59 a.m.

ALLEGHENY TOWNSHIP - A Lower Burrell man has been ordered to stand trial on drug, gun and witness-intimidation charges, including an accusation that he once illegally owned the handgun used in October to kill Lower Burrell Patrolman Derek Kotecki.

James Anthony "Lutzo" Ameris III, 52, of Fairview Drive isn't charged with giving that .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol directly to the fugitive who murdered Kotecki.

Instead, Ameris is accused of having that pistol and illegally selling or transferring it as well as a 9 mm pistol earlier last year. He's also charged with illegal possession of a .22-caliber rifle in 2010.

Ameris hasn't been allowed to own any guns since 2004 because of a drug conviction.

District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec ordered Ameris held for court yesterday on two witness-intimidation charges concerning recent incidents and for the gun possessions last year. He also faces trial on eight drug possession and paraphernalia charges and the other gun charge, all from 2010 cases.

Charles "Charlie" Post, 33, of Lower Burrell ambushed Kotecki, 40, on Oct. 12 as police closed in on him in a restaurant parking lot. Post was killed during a shootout with police. Court documents say that Ameris had gone to the restaurant with Post, but he doesn't face charges related to his presence at the slaying scene.

Federal authorities were eager to trace possession of the gun that killed Kotecki, which police say Post also fired at an acquaintance during a dispute 10 days earlier. The Smith & Wesson pistol made a circuitous journey from a Fayette County gun shop in 2007 to Post's hands four years later.

Authorities said previously that Ameris was the last person known to possess the gun before Post. But Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said in March that authorities don't know when Post obtained the weapon.

During Ameris' preliminary hearing yesterday, Nevin Alan Lawson, 41, of Shearsburg Road, Allegheny Township, testified that he and Ameris used cocaine in Lawson's tool room last year. Lawson testified that he had the .40-caliber pistol. He said Ameris took it and ammunition from him.

Lawson also testified that Ameris came to his house April 30 and threatened him concerning his scheduled appearance at Ameris' hearing yesterday. Ameris was denying that he ever took possession of the gun, according to Lawson. Lawson, is, himself, facing an illegal gun transfer charge.

Lawson said Ameris frightened him, even though Lawson said he had a pistol on him. According to court papers, Ameris implied that harm would come to Lawson, which he claimed would happen "whether I'm in jail or not."

Lawson said he was frightened enough to get his girlfriend and leave the property. He said he called his attorney and the attorney called police.

At Ameris' May 2 arraignment, Ameris claimed he took a girlfriend to see the Lawson house because he had heard it was up for sheriff's sale.

Lawson testified yesterday that Ameris was by himself when made the threats.

Ameris, who was wearing a prison uniform, handcuffs and shackles, was warned by Yakopec not to laugh, shake his head or make faces at Lawson.

In other testimony, Jeffrey Haggerty, an agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, described an ownership trace on the gun that was used to kill Kotecki and how Ameris came to have it.

There was no testimony regarding who gave Post the gun, nor have police released that information.

Haggerty also described a March 8 meeting in the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh in which Ameris allegedly told authorities about the 9 mm pistol.

Witness Pamela Tantlinger of New Kensington said Ameris brought that gun to her house to sell to a man installing carpet. He paid about $200 for the gun, she said.

Ameris' initial bond was revoked April 30. He has been in the Westmoreland County jail since the alleged witness intimidation.

Yakopec set total bond for Ameris at $200,000.

Ameris was one of seven people arrested in March that were accused of either helping Post elude police or of illegal involvement with the pistol used in the fatal shooting.

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