Judge allows ballistics evidence in trans-related murder trial

Judge allows ballistics evidence in trans-related murder trial

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A Philadelphia judge this week denied a prosecution request to exclude ballistics evidence in the upcoming trial of Matthew J. White, accused of murdering a trans woman’s boyfriend last year.

During a Sept. 17 court proceeding, Common Pleas Judge Barbara McDermott said she’ll allow the evidence, which defense attorney Eileen J. Hurley said raises the possibility that someone other than White killed Barry Jones.

White is accused of murdering Jones in the city’s Carroll Park section on Jan. 9, 2017. Jones was the boyfriend of Vivian Royster, a trans woman who’s expected to testify at his trial. A day before Jones was killed, White allegedly burglarized the nearby residence of three trans women.

A jury trial for White was scheduled to begin Sept. 17 but was postponed because of the unavailability of a key witness, Sgt. Charles Pettineo. A new trial date has been set for Oct. 22.

Hurley said Pettineo is expected to testify that Royster initially identified a person named “Sean” as Jones’ killer. Hurley said her client has never gone by the name “Sean.” Pettineo was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Royster couldn’t be reached for comment.

The ballistics evidence at issue indicates that spent shell casings recovered from a March 2016 non-fatal shooting in Carroll Park were fired by the same gun involved in the burglary of the three trans women and the killing of Jones. The gun has never been located.

The shooting victim in the March 2016 incident cleared White as a suspect, Hurley said, adding it’s important jurors consider the evidence. Prosecutor Kelly Harrell had argued that the evidence should be withheld due to a lack of relevancy and because it would tend to prejudice a jury.

According to court records, White was arrested on Jan. 15, 2017, after one of the trans women who was burglarized spotted his photo on Facebook. Hurley said her client continues to maintain his innocence. But Harrell said that five witnesses have identified him as the killer of Jones or the burglar of the trans women.

Harrell also noted that trans-related pornography was recovered from a cell phone connected to Jones. Hurley said the pornography is irrelevant to the case, but McDermott said she’ll allow jurors to hear about it.

White remains incarcerated at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Northeast Philadelphia. He attended the Sept. 17 court proceeding but didn’t speak publicly other than consenting to his trial’s postponement and agreeing to behave appropriately in court when it takes place.

White, 34, stands charged with murder, aggravated assault, burglary, reckless endangerment, possessing an instrument of crime and related offenses. He faces life imprisonment if convicted of all charges.

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