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Lower Burrell man Ameris to go to trial in cases involving guns, drugs, witness intimidation

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 12:46 a.m.
James 'Lutzo' Ameris III of Lower Burrell

A Lower Burrell man is allowed to withdraw “no contest” pleas and will instead stand trial in four cases involving guns, drugs and witness intimidation, a judge ruled Monday.

Westmoreland County President Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. also cleared the way for James A. “Lutzo” Ameris III, 54, of Fairview Drive,to stay in a 64-year-old family friend's house along Fifth Avenue in New Kensington if the residence is approved.

McCormick instructed court personnel to investigate the suitability of the residence for allowing Ameris to stay while he awaits trial. He would be electronically monitored via an ankle bracelet.

Ameris has been in the county jail in lieu of $130,000 bond since May 1, 2012 for allegedly threatening a witness against him.

He is charges in four cases:

• Illegally possessing a .22-caliber rifle and drugs in his residence. He has a criminal record and cannot have any firearms.

• Three firearms violations in a March 2012 case.

• Drug and gun charges in an April 2012 case.

• In another 2012 case, he is accused of threatening a witness against him.

No contest pleas

On June 2, Ameris pleaded no contest to 11 charges in four cases. His sentencing was scheduled for the end of August.

One of those charges alleges that Ameris possessed a .40-caliber pistol that another man, Charlie Post, used to kill Lower Burrell police officer Derek Kotecki almost three years ago.

Ameris has said through his attorney, Duke George, that he drove the man to the Lower Burrell Dairy Queen in Oct. 12, 2011, but Ameris denies ever having the pistol and says he didn't know Post would shoot. Post was on the lam after he shot a man earlier that month. Post shot himself to death as police closed in on him.

Although he pleaded no contest to the four cases on June 2, Ameris has decided to stand trial. So he asked George to withdraw the no contest pleas.

George also asked that Ameris be allowed to stay with a New Kensington woman who is an old Ameris family friend.

At a Friday hearing, Assistant District Attorney Leo J. Ciaramitaro argued against both motions, saying that the pleas should remain in effect and that the woman couldn't provide a suitable place for Ameris to stay.

McCormick disagreed with those arguments and issued the two orders Monday.

Ciaramitaro said Monday one case could be tried as soon as October.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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