2 charged in connection with Wilkinsburg massacre
Two men named as suspects months ago in the Wilkinsburg massacre that killed five adults and an unborn child were charged Thursday morning.
Cheron Lamont “C-Wiz” Shelton, 29, and Robert James “Milhouse” Thomas, 27, have been held without bail on an unrelated 2013 drug case, though investigators zeroed in on the two men early in the investigation.
Both were charged with five counts of homicide and 3 counts of attempted homicide.
Shelton’s attorney, Randall McKinney, has said his client is “absolutely innocent.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said evidence against the two includes shell casings, cell phone records, cell tower records, video and audio recordings, and testimony from cooperating witnesses.
Two gunmen opened fire at a family cookout about 11 p.m. March 9 at the Wilkinsburg home of Brittany Powell. At least 15 people were in the Franklin Avenue backyard when one gunman fired from the alley behind the yard, which was fenced in on both sides. The shots drove the crowd toward the back porch door as the only possible escape, where a second gunman in a walkway alongside the house caught them in execution-like crossfire with an AK-47-style rifle.
Those killed were Brittany Powell, 27; Chanetta Powell, 25, and her 8-months-along unborn son Demetrius; Jerry Shelton, 35; Tina Shelton, 37; and Shada Mahone, 26.
Brittany, Chanetta and Jerry were siblings, and Tina was their cousin. Mahone was a family friend.
Three people were wounded, two critically.
Zappala said the crime scene was “horrific.”
Cheron Shelton fired the AK-47 type rifle that killed the five from about four feet away; Thomas fired the handgun that herded the victims into Shelton’s line of fire, according to Zappala.
Cheron Shelton is no relation to the Sheltons who were killed.
One of those injured, LaMont Powell, Zappala identified as the “primary target” in the shooting.
Zappala said police believe the shooting was in retaliation for the 2013 killing of Shelton’s associate Calvin Doswell.
According to the criminal complaint, a cooperating witness told police Shelton told him “he wanted everyone gone and he didn’t (care) who got hit or who didn’t get hit” — that Shelton told him “he wanted the family to go through what he went through.”
The father of two of the victims said he’d feared the case had gone cold, until he got an early-morning call from officials notifying him charges were about to be filed.
“For a while, I thought it had gone cold, that they didn’t have anything substantial. But they called me at 6 a.m. and had everything wrapped up,” said Eric Powell, father of Brittany and Chanetta Powell.
“I’m just hoping and praying for justice,” he said.
A Facebook page bearing Cheron Shelton’s name lists shooting victim Chanetta Powell as a friend.
Three days after the massacre, police searched a home on Nolan Court in Pittsburgh’s Homewood North neighborhood and discovered a firearm and cache of ammunition. Evidence collected from the home — which is listed in online records as Cheron Shelton’s address — included a .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle; a magazine with .22-caliber ammunition; a magazine with 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition; a magazine of 12-gauge shotgun shells; a bag of various live rounds; rifle scopes and gun parts; and a bulletproof vest.
Investigators have said that one gunman used a 7.62 mm rifle in the shooting, and police found 31 7.62 mm shell casings at the scene.
Wilkinsburg Mayor John Thompson said he believes the charges will bring a sense of comfort to the area.
“The community can rest at ease now knowing that they have captured and apprehended and charged the individuals that they believe to have committed the crime,” he said.
Cheron Shelton’s criminal record stretches to 2007, when he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
He was charged Jan. 30 with simple assault. A preliminary hearing in that case is scheduled for May 5.
He pleaded guilty in early January to possession of a controlled substance and driving with a suspended license and was sentenced to a year of probation. He pleaded guilty in 2010 to possession with intent to deliver and possession of a controlled substance.
Listed in Thomas’ jail file is his “581” tattoo, which signals past or present membership in the 581 HillTop Crips — a street gang that controls the narcotics trade in the Mohler Court area of the Homewood North public housing complex, nicknamed the Mohler Projects.
The gang, which also is known as the Mohler Project Crips or MPC, is loosely linked to a larger Crips network that runs from the East End and Homewood through the Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar neighborhood, where Shelton owns a house.
Thomas, a native of California, has a long rap sheet that includes convictions tied to drug dealing, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment and providing false identification to police. In 2012, authorities accused him of threatening Donte Ethridge and his mother, Marion Crosby, of East Pittsburgh. A police officer was injured while chasing him. Thomas faced a felony charge of aggravated assault but pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges and received probation.