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Mistakenly ID'd in sequential photo lineup, Shaler man is cleared of charges by Allegheny County DA

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 10:24 p.m.
Michael Lapaglia, 23, of Sharpsburg was found guilty on June 11, 2015 in the shooting death of his aunt's fiance.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Bryan Gibbons, right, arrives with his attorney to his hearing at Elissa Lang's magistrate office in Sharpsburg on Wednesday morning, Aug. 13, 2014. Prosecutors are withdrawing charges against Gibbons after originally being charred by Allegheny County Police during an investigating into the shooting death of a Kennedy man last month. Police used the sequential photo array method District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. wants authorities to use, but it still ended up in a false ID. Zappala’s insistence on the method led to a public battle between his office and new Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar. County Police ultimately charged someone else with selling jewelry stolen from John Parkes after he was shot to death in his home.

Authorities dropped charges against a Shaler man on Wednesday because a witness mistakenly picked him out of a photo lineup, his attorney said, in the investigation of a Kennedy man's murder.

Bryan Gibbons, 29, had been charged with receiving stolen property based on a witness who said Gibbons sold jewelry stolen from John Parkes Jr., who was found shot to death in his Kennedy home on July 21.

Allegheny County Police and the District Attorney's Office dropped the charge against Gibbons eight days after they charged Michael Lapaglia, 23, of Sharpsburg with homicide, burglary and robbery. Lapaglia shot Parkes at his home and stole jewelry, police said.

“He's an average-looking white guy; I'm an average-looking white guy. It kind of makes me nervous he was picked out of a photo array like that,” said Casey White, Gibbons' attorney. “Besides lining up eight people behind a two-way mirror, human error always plays a part in witness identification.”

County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt did not return a call seeking comment.

White said county detectives questioned Gibbons for about 10 hours about the fatal shooting and theft. He was released, then arrested and kept in Allegheny County Jail for a day until he paid bail. Meanwhile, police searched Gibbons' home and his parents' home for evidence related to the shooting. The searches upset his family and neighbors, White said.

Gibbons pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges of theft and receiving stolen property; he was sentenced to two years of probation. Gibbons is awaiting a nonjury trial on charges of burglary, trespass, theft and receiving stolen property that were filed in 2013.

Police said Lapaglia, whose aunt was Parkes' fiancee, sold several items stolen from the Parkes home at a Downtown jewelry store the day after the murder. A warrant for his arrest was issued Aug. 5. He was in custody the next day and remains in Allegheny County Jail.

The witness, a pawn shop owner who recognized Gibbons from previous dealings, chose Gibbons' picture from a sequential photo array in which detectives show a witness photos of potential suspects one after another. An alternative method, which Pittsburgh police use, involves showing a witness the photos simultaneously. Debate over which method is the most effective sparked a public discussion last month between District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala's office and Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar.

Zappala asked Pittsburgh police to consult his office before issuing felony arrest warrants that relied on witnesses picking a stranger out of a simultaneous photo lineup. Zappala wanted Pittsburgh to follow the Allegheny County Criminal Justice Advisory Board's draft policy for using sequential photos. Bucar, though, said the National Academy of Sciences was conducting its own study of whether the simultaneous method is better.

Zappala spokesman Mike Manko said the District Attorney's Office was not involved in Gibbons' case until it withdrew the charges. He declined to comment on the photo-array issue.

White said his client isn't considering legal action based on the mistaken identification.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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