By Joe Gorman
Attorneys in the case of a man murdered at a South Side car wash last November sparred in closing arguments over whether the shooting was self-defense, but a jury said it was not.
Jurors in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday convicted 24-year-old Lavelle Stanley of aggravated murder, attempted murder and felonious assault for the Nov. 15, 2013, killing of Elliott Stewart, 25, and the wounding of his brother, Derrick Stewart, outside a Southern Boulevard car wash operated by Elliott Stewart.
Stanley showed no emotion as the verdicts were read a little after 7 p.m., and neither did his supporters or Stewart’s family — although a man did plant a kiss on the cheek of the mother of the brothers.
Judge R. Scott Krichbaum will sentence Stanley at a later date.
Assistant Prosecutor Martin Desmond said Stanley meant to kill Elliott Stewart and his brother Derrick because Stanley thought he was being disrespected. But defense attorney Tom Zena said it was Elliott Stewart who escalated the situation by leaving the car wash then returning with a gun, causing his client to think his life was in danger.
Reports said Elliott Stewart tried to break up an argument between two women in front of the store and Stanley, who was by his vehicle on the street, took umbrage because Elliott Stewart told everyone to leave and made a motion like he had a weapon in his waistband.
The two argued then Elliott Stewart left briefly, and Derrick Stewart tried to get Stanley to calm down. But when his brother came back he was shot several times.
Both attorneys said Elliott Stewart had a gun with him when he returned, but Desmond said he was shot before he could even get out of his car. He said the trajectory of one of the bullets that struck Elliott Stewart proved that he never pointed his weapon at Stanley.
Desmond said Stanley waited for Elliott Stewart to return and shot him because he was angry. He said the shooting was not self-defense because Stanley never left the scene but waited — and that he instigated the shooting because he acted as if he had a weapon.
“He’s [Elliott Stewart] at his business, where he has a right to be, and before he can get out of his car, the defendant starts shooting him,” Desmond said.
Zena said there is no way to tell by the bullet trajectories if Elliott Stewart pointed a weapon, because no one knows which of the bullets that struck him was the first one. Zena also said that Stanley wanted to leave, but Derrick Stewart came over to talk to him and smooth things over, and that his car was in drive and he was waiting when Elliott Stewart pulled up right next to him.
Stanley was afraid for his life and did not have time to think if Elliott Stewart was armed, and if he was what he would do with his gun.
Zena also said that Elliott Stewart did not have to come back, and when he did he could have pulled in a long way from Stanley’s car.
Jurors were chosen to hear the case Tuesday, which is when testimony began. They began their deliberations Wednesday about 5 p.m.