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Winner of gun used in homicide gets 15 months in jail

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 5:06 p.m.
Meryle Smith III

A New Kensington man who won a pistol at a local gun show that was used to kill Lower Burrell police officer Derek Kotecki will serve at least 15 months in jail.

Meryl E. Smith III, 34, was sentenced on Thursday on three firearms offenses. He pleaded guilty to the charges in September.

Westmoreland County Judge John Blahovec sentenced Smith to serve 15 to 30 months.

Police said it was Smith who won the weapon used by Charles Post on Oct. 12, 2011, to shoot Kotecki.

The officer had spotted Post near a Dairy Queen restaurant. Post had been wanted in connection with a shooting in the Clarion Hotel parking lot in New Kensington about 10 days earlier.

As Kotecki approached the SUV parked outside the Dairy Queen, Post fired numerous times through a closed window, killing Kotecki. Post killed himself during a shootout with other officers.

Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro said Smith was at the start of a chain of events that ultimately led to Post having possession of the gun.

“While we don't blame Mr. Smith for the death of officer Kotecki, we seek to enforce the gun laws of the state,” Ciaramitaro said.

Investigators said Smith held the winning ticket for the .40-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol at a gun show held at the Richland Township Volunteer Fire Department in 2010.

Smith did not have identification with him at that time, so he gave the ticket to another man, Robert Zentner, 57. Zentner claimed the gun and gave it to Smith but did not formally transfer ownership of the weapon.

Police said Smith eventually gave the gun to a third man, Nevin Lawson. Police believe James A. Ameris, 43, of New Kensington, either purchased or stole the gun from Lawson. Charges are pending against Ameris and Lawson.

Zentner pleaded guilty to weapons offenses last year and was sentenced to serve six to 23 months in jail.

That sentence was to start last week, but Zentner was in court on Thursday to ask Blahovec to reconsider the penalty.

Ciaramitaro said Blahovec refused to reduce Zentner's sentence but allowed him to remain free on bail for the next month while he considers whether to file an appeal.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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