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Lemilliere convicted of manslaughter

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Emotions ran high Monday as a Westmoreland County jury returned a guilty verdict of voluntary manslaughter against a West Newton man for the stabbing death of his neighbor and longtime friend last summer.

Michael D. Lemilliere, 39, was found guilty of the felony count for the Aug. 26 killing of 42-year-old Anthony Whane Jewett and now faces a maximum of 10 to 20 years in prison after jurors returned what was a compromise verdict after more than 3 1/2 hours of deliberations.

Prosecutors had sought a conviction of a more serious charge of third-degree murder while the defense argued during five days of testimony that Lemilliere had at worst acted recklessly and therefore should have been found guilty only of a misdemeanor count of involuntary manslaughter. At best, he should be acquitted because he acted in defense of himself and his family, the defense contended.

Sitting in the front row of the courtroom were Lemilliere's wife and three children, ages 18, 14 and 10. All cried uncontrollably at times as the verdict was announced and continued to weep outside the courthouse.

Defense attorneys Mark Shire and Joe Massaro said the verdict was not unexpected but still was against their theory of the case.

"All of the surrounding circumstances to us suggested it was unintentional," Shire said.

Shire and Massaro said they will seek a prison term for Lemilliere that is at the bottom of the standard range of sentencing guidelines that call for a minimum of 3 1/2 years behind bars.

Lemilliere will be sentenced within two months by Westmoreland County Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr.

"It will be helpful for the sentencing that Judge McCormick heard the details of the case. Mike was extremely remorseful," Shire said.

The trial, which started June 3, was never a question of whodunit, but rather the degree of culpability. The defense attempted to prove that Jewett's stabbing constituted an unintentional killing.

Lemilliere testified last week that he ran from his Water Street home to intervene in a fight outside between his wife and Jewett. Lemilliere's wife contended she was punched several times by Jewett.

Lemilliere said he pulled his knife to scare Jewett, but a physical altercation erupted between the men that left Jewett stabbed and slashed three times. Jewett suffered a rare fatal slash wound to his lower left leg and bled to death.

"Mike didn't go outside with the intent to kill Anthony. His dominant emotion was confusion," Shire told jurors in his closing argument.

Prosecutors said Lemilliere ran out of the house with a knife and intended to inflict serious bodily injury on Jewett. The prosecution argued that Lemilliere used his knife in a deliberate intent to inflict serious injuries to a vital part of Jewett's body.

That constituted third-degree murder, said Greg DeFloria, Westmoreland County assistant district attorney.

Still, DeFloria did not criticize the jury verdict.

"I have to respect the jury's finding," DeFloria said.

According to witnesses during the trial, the Lemillieres and Jewetts had been friends for 15 years in a relationship that started while they lived in Florida.

Jewett and his wife moved to West Newton after relocating from Orlando, Fla., in April 2002. Lemilliere and his family moved north from Florida two months later to find work at Jewett's urging.

The Lemillieres moved in with the Jewetts and after about a month had rented an apartment next door, where they lived at the time of the fatal stabbing.

The stabbing culminated a day of bickering between Lemilliere, Jewett and their wives.

According to trial testimony, the families were on good terms until the morning of the stabbing when the men's wives argued about their whereabouts several days before. Jewett's wife believed the men had gone to a union hall in Pittsburgh looking for work. Lemilliere's wife contended the husbands instead went to a strip club in Pittsburgh.

Lemilliere testified last week that he and Jewett did go to the strip club.

That fight between the women spilled into the early evening, about 12 hours after the men returned from their jobs as welders at a New Florence power plant, when Lemilliere's wife and Jewett got into a screaming match. Lemilliere's wife testified that fight turned violent when Jewett struck her several times in the face.

Testimony during the trial suggested that Lemilliere, who was watching television in the house, came outside only after his 14-year-old daughter told him that Jewett had hit her mother.

Jewett's widow testified early in the trial that her husband never hit Lemilliere's wife and that Lemilliere had initiated the physical confrontation between the men.

No witnesses testified they saw Lemilliere with a knife, and Lemilliere told jurors he did not know how Jewett was fatally injured, only that he was holding the knife when the stab and slash wounds were inflicted.

During the fight, Jewett was stabbed once in the chest and was slashed in the chest and leg. Lemilliere tried to give him some assistance after the fight by tying a tourniquet on his upper leg.

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