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Newman slay trial opens

| Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

WASHINGTON, Pa. - Brenda Newman was "freaking out" when her husband did not return home the night of Feb. 4, 2003, her daughter, Lindsey, testified Wednesday.

The next morning, Lindsey Newman found her father, John, dead in his car - a half block from his California home.

Michael "Cleveland Mike" Duncan, 34, of Amherst, Ohio, and John Ira Bronson Jr., 54, are standing trial on criminal homicide and criminal conspiracy to commit homicide charges in the shooting death of John Newman.

Bronson is a Monessen native who is serving time in a federal penitentiary in an unrelated case.

Testimony began Wednesday before Washington County Common Pleas Judge Janet......Moschetta Bell.

Duncan, Bronson and Howard Irwin, of Charleroi, were charged in the cold case murder a year ago following a Washington County grand jury investigation.

However, last month, Irwin pleaded guilty to hindering apprehension or prosecution and agreed to testify against Bronson and Duncan.

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

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, he sought to have Newman killed, prosecutors claim.

Lindsey and Brenda Newman each testified they last saw John Newman alive the night before the murder, when he drove Brian Horner home.

John Newman obtained $300 from his wife before he left.

Lindsey Newman testified that she heard the familiar hum of her father's 1988 Oldsmobile an hour after he left with Horner.

Brenda Newman testified that her husband became addicted to the painkiller OxyContin, which was prescribed to him after suffering a work-related back injury.

California police Officer Rick Encapera testified that he responded to the intersection of First and Liberty streets shortly after the Newmans found the body.

"She was frantic," Encapera said of Brenda Newman's demeanor at the crime scene.

"She was crying. She was very distraught. She told me her husband was shot, and he was in his car."

Encapera said there were no signs of a struggle in the car, outside of which he found a 9mm hollow-point bullet.

In cross-examination by Duncan's attorney, David Shrager, Encapera said Brenda Newman testified that there was animosity between her husband and Horner.

Jurors out

It took two days to choose 12 jurors and four alternate jurors, but just hours Wednesday to lose two of them. Two jurors were dismissed - one before opening statements Wednesday and another at midday. Prosecutors and defense attorneys would not say why the jurors were dismissed.

In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Darren Newberry said testimony will show that Bronson solicited several people to kill Newman. He said witnesses will testify that Duncan admitted to shooting Newman.

"To make a decision in this case, you have to enter the world where John Newman was living and dealing in 2002-03, where John Bronson was making large amounts of money selling drugs - and where Mike Duncan was considered 'muscle' from out of town," Newberry said.

"Many of the witnesses that the commonwealth will bring before you during this trial will be from this world. And that is the drug world as it existed in the Mon Valley in that time period."

He told the jury Newman chose a lifestyle that included illegal drug activity, adding Newman was executed after agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement officials.

Shrager told the jury the commonwealth lacks physical evidence. He reminded the panel to determine whether the stories from prosecution witnesses match up.

He noted that Newberry did not mention Horner in his opening remarks. He said analysis of Horner's hands conducted the day Newman was found dead indicated he might have recently fired a gun.

During testimony later, state police Forensics Service Unit troopers Jason Altman and Rich Hunter acknowledged they tested Horner's hands for gunshot residue.

They were not asked if the tests were positive.

Testimony was expected to continue today.

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