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Jury selection starts for 2018 city murder trial

YOUNGSTOWN — Jury selection began Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in the trial of a man accused of aggravated murder in the late 2018 killing of 37-year-old Trevice Harris.

LaVontae E. Knight, 26, of Ferndale Avenue, faces 11 counts, including aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, four counts of kidnapping, two counts of felonious assault and two counts of having weapons under disability.

Lawyers were in the process of selecting 12 jurors and two alternates late Monday afternoon in the courtroom of Judge John M. Durkin. Opening statements by attorneys from both sides plus the first state testimony is expected to begin sometime today.

Assistant Prosecutor Michael Yacovone told prospective jurors he expects to call more than a dozen witnesses, including six officers from the Youngstown Police Department, three health care personnel, two members of the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office and two forensic investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Investigations.

Knight could face up to life in prison.

In the affidavit, police said a witness in the Dec. 30, 2018, killing said Harris met with Knight on Dec. 30, 2018, because Knight asked Harris for money to help with family expenses associated with a recent triple homicide, in which Knight’s half-brother was accused of taking part.

The witness, a woman, said Knight called Harris on the phone and asked him for “financial assistance for his family,” police stated in the affidavit. Harris went to a home on Ferndale Avenue alone.

Later, Harris called the witness and asked her to go to the Ferndale residence. Someone called “Slim” flagged her down in the street, and they went into the house, where Harris was being held at gunpoint, a report stated

“Slim” and another man forced Harris and the woman into a car and drove them around, saying they did not intend to hurt them.

But gunshots rang out, and the witness got into the driver’s seat and drove away with Harris to the Shell gas station, 3200 Market St., to get help. Harris, who was found mortally wounded at the Shell station, later died at the hospital.

Knight also is charged with murder, aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, attempted cocaine possession and a weapons charge in the Oct. 25, 2018, killing of Josh Donatelli, 26, at Donatelli’s home on Imperial Street on the West Side. A trial in that case is pending in Durkin’s court.

The Donatelli murder case received attention last year when Durkin removed Dawn Cantalamessa, then-Mahoning County assistant prosecutor, from the case, saying Cantalamessa showed a “careless indifference to ascertaining the truth” in turning over evidence to the defense regarding a failed photo lineup helpful to the defense.

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