Four Monessen residents facing trial for attempted homicide
MONESSEN – Four Monessen residents were ordered Thursday to stand trial on attempted homicide and other charges for allegedly firing shots at another city resident.
Appearing before Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso, Josh Stepoli, 18; Terrance Stepoli, 20; Samone Stepoli, 21; and Earl Pinkney, 19, faced charges of attempted homicide and attempted aggravated assault and two counts of conspiracy.
A fifth suspect, Antoine Hairston, had his preliminary hearing delayed until Jan. 7 because he showed up without an attorney.
Samone remained free on bond while Pinkney and the Stepoli brothers were returned to the Westmoreland County Prison, where they have been held – each in lieu of $100,000 bond – for allegedly shooting at Jaisen Irwin of Monessen.
Westmoreland County sheriff‘s deputies and Monessen police stood guard outside and inside the building during the hearing. Anyone entering was scanned with a hand-held metal detector.
District Attorney John Peck called four witnesses, including Irwin, who testified that Pinkney and Hairston chased him from near the Elks Club on Knox Avenue to Highland Manor on the afternoon of Dec. 4.
In a packed courtroom, Irwin, wearing a Monessen High School basketball warm-up jacket, took the stand.
As Irwin spoke, the defendants, their family members and friends muttered derogatory comments.
When Irwin said Terrance Stepoli used profane, racial terms to describe him, and when an attorney repeated the slur, the three male defendants – wearing blue prison jumpsuits and handcuffs – broke out in laughter.
Irwin testified that a car driven by Samone Stepoli pulled up while he was sitting on a wall, smoking. Irwin said Terrance Stepoli exited the car, approached him and attempted to slap his face.
Screaming, Terrance Stepoli accused Irwin of spreading rumors that his younger brother, Josh Stepoli, had murdered Chris “Snax” Fincik early that morning, Irwin testified. Fincik, 36, was shot three times and killed just after midnight Dec. 4 at his Maple Avenue residence.
Irwin said three others – Josh Stepoli, Pinkney and Hairston – then exited the car, and he saw the latter two running towards him with what he thought were handguns pointed toward the ground.
As Samone Stepoli yelled for Terrance Stepoli to come back to the car, Josh Stepoli went off in another direction, Irwin added.
Irwin said he then took off running, eventually fleeing down the steps near the Highland Manor office and into Apartment 1001.
He testified that at that point, he saw a laser sight beam – similar to that on a laser pointer – appear on a pillar to his left and heard two gunshots.
Irwin said he ran into the friend's residence and commanded everyone inside to go into the basement.
Irwin said he ran upstairs to a window, from which he saw Hairston and someone he identified as Quan Harris standing by a trash bin.
Defense attorneys called several of Irwin's statements into question, specifically that he first identified the car as being blue, possibly a Ford Taurus, before stating the vehicle was actually a silver Neon that was double-parked next to the blue one.
Samone Stepoli's attorney, Patricia Elliot, asked Irwin if it was true the car was actually driven by Chalsee Hughes and not her client.
After the hearing, Hughes and Pinkney were charged with homicide and robbery in connection with Fincik's death.
Attorneys for Terrance and Josh Stepoli each grilled Irwin about when he saw their clients after the shots were fired and insisted they were not at the scene.
Dalfonso also heard from Jason Snyder of the Westmoreland County Housing Authority, whose office is at Highland Manor near the aforementioned steps.
Snyder said he saw the commotion and saw two males hunched over by a trash container with one dressed in a grey sweatshirt who appeared to have something silver and “chrome-looking” in his waistband.
He could not identify either male, but later showed police video footage from two security cameras.
Monessen police Officer David Winkler, who responded to the “shots fired” call, said he found a black magazine with .45-caliber bullets and an unloaded small pistol lying by a fence.
Winkler testified that he found a .45-caliber handgun with laser sight about 100 feet from the steps.
Winkler said police then went to a backyard at 1037 Highland Manor, where they found a garbage bag containing a small revolver. The gun had four shells, two of which had been discharged.
Westmoreland County Detective Tom Horan read statements by the defendants:
• Terrance Stepoli allegedly said he confronted Irwin but did not chase after him and then got back into the car.
• Joshua Stepoli allegedly said he was walking by at the time, saw his brother confront Irwin and got into the car with his brother and left.
• Samone Stepoli said she remained behind, near the Elks lodge and walked home.
Afterward all four defense attorneys implored Dalfonso to withdraw charges, citing insufficient evidence and claiming Irwin's testimony was “woefully lacking.”
“Five of these people came to that area for a specific purpose,” Peck said. “They were upset about what they thought Jaisen Irwin had done, and they wanted to make certain Josh was not implicated in this murder.
“And they were going to go to whatever lengths necessary, including firing at another human being, to prevent that.”
Dalfonso made his decision quickly.
Afterward, some family and friends of the defendants complained about the decision.
As Terrance Stepoli was being placed into a sheriff's van, he yelled to a television camera that he hates “snitches.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.