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Homicide charge dropped in North Side case

| Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Prosecutors on Friday dropped a homicide charge against a North Side man less than three weeks after a witness to the killing was shot dead.

Devon Shealey, 22, was scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing for the Sept. 28 fatal shooting of Jason Brown, 30.

Justen Anderson, 19, of the North Side was standing next to Brown at the time. Anderson was cooperating with Pittsburgh homicide detectives when he, too, was fatally shot earlier this month.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office would not comment on whether Anderson's death prompted them to drop the homicide charge, but city police did say they had sought to delay the case as they gathered more evidence. Shealey is still being held on robbery charges.

"Time wasn't on our side," said Pittsburgh police Lt. Daniel Herrmann. "There are people out there (to talk to), it's just, nowadays, to get people to cooperate and testify, it's kind of tough. You can't blame them, with all the retaliation that's happening."

Police likely will be able to refile the homicide charge and are investigating whether Shealey played any role in Anderson's slaying, Herrmann said.

Police had said Shealey approached Brown as the victim smoked marijuana on North Charles Street in the North Side. Shealey asked if he could smoke some, and as Brown handed him the joint, Shealey pulled out a gun and shot him, according to detectives.

Anderson died on Nov. 5. His mother said they had just discussed Barack Obama's election as president when, according to police, one bullet came through the window, striking Anderson in the arm and chest.

Members of the U.S. Marshal's Western Pennsylvania Fugitive Task Force arrested Shealey the next evening in Northview Heights. City police had said they would question him in Anderson's death, but no charges were filed.

Relatives of both shooting victims had said they believed Anderson was killed for helping police. He had declined an offer for witness-protection services, according to police.

Shealey faces several robbery and firearms charges, court records show. He committed four armed robberies in the Strip District in May, Herrmann said.

Anderson gave police a statement implicating Shealey, and they want to find at least one witness who independently heard Anderson's account of Brown's killing, Herrmann said.

"It's not that we have a lot of witnesses out there. We have a few witnesses that lend ... one or two pieces of the puzzle," he said. "We'll work on it, and it will take a while, until people feel more secure."

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