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Man accused of owning gun used to kill Burrell officer made deal to avoid prosecution, attorney says

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
James 'Lutzo' Ameris III of Lower Burrell

A Westmoreland County judge will rule at a later date whether statements given to police by a man accused of owning the firearm used to kill a Lower Burrell police officer were illegally obtained.

Judge John E. Blahovec heard additional testimony on Friday in the case of James Anthony “Lutzo” Ameris III, 54, of Lower Burrell in a pretrial hearing that was continued from May.

Ameris is accused of being the last link in a chain of people who illegally possessed a gun used by Charles Post to kill K-9 Officer Derek Kotecki in October 2011. Investigators have said Ameris drove Post to a Lower Burrell Dairy Queen where Kotecki attempted to arrest Post on a warrant.

Post shot and killed himself during a shootout with officers.

On Friday, Ameris' attorney, Fred Rabner, testified he believed Ameris had struck a deal to share information about the 40-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomic pistol used to kill Kotecki with federal investigators in exchange for having no charges filed against him.

“I felt confident that there was a gentleman's agreement that we would follow the same rules,” Rabner said.

During the discussion with federal investigators, Ameris made reference to a second firearm, a 9 mm pistol.

Weeks later, charges relating to both weapons were filed by then-Westmoreland County Detective Terry Kuhns, who was present during the interview.

Kuhns testified he was not aware of any agreement made with federal investigators. Kuhns is now police chief in Frazer.

“At any point in time did you ever make assurances ... that any statements (Ameris) made in that interview would not be used in state court?” asked Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro.

“No,” Kuhns responded.

Ameris is accused of illegally possessing the pistol used to kill Kotecki, the 9 mm pistol and a .22-caliber rifle.

Ameris has been in the Westmoreland County jail since May 2012.

Co-defense counsel Dan Joseph argued that Ameris's bond should be modified, but Ciaramitaro opposed any modification.

Blahovec ordered both parties to file briefs outlining their arguments, which he will consider in issuing his ruling.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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