It was a shocking and terrible crime. In 2016, two gunmen acted in concert to drive partygoers to a Pittsburgh-area house’s back porch and then shoot them. Five people, including a woman who was eight months pregnant, were killed. A sixth person was paralyzed and died later.
Who were those gunmen? They were not Robert Thomas or Cheron Shelton. Those two men were immediately arrested based on information from confidential informants.
Robert and Cheron were held in pre-trial detention for four years. On the first day of their trial, the prosecutor dismissed all charges against Robert, citing a lack of evidence. Cheron was acquitted.
They were innocent all along. Now, they’re suing police in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, for misconduct. They say the information from the confidential informants were unreliable and contracted the evidence. They argue that the Allegheny County police and a Pittsburgh police detective acted unlawfully and recklessly, resulting in Thomas and Cheron being falsely accused and losing four years of freedom.
The prosecutors were almost certainly at fault, too, if Robert and Cheron’s story is accurate. However, prosecutors are immune from civil liability. Therefore, the men plan to file a state disciplinary complaint.
According to the allegations, the police never found any physical evidence connecting Robert or Cheron to the shootings. No eyewitnesses identified them as the shooters.
The investigation didn’t take long and relied exclusively on testimony from two jailhouse informants. Those informants were apparently so unreliable that it was almost farcical. In a separate case, one of the informants had threatened a judge. Judges had identified the other informant as an “agent of the state” and were refusing to allow him to testify in criminal cases.
Prosecutors knew by 2018 that their entire case against Robert and Cheron had fallen apart. They had dropped both of the informants as witnesses.
Instead of sending the case back to the police for a new investigation, the prosecutors allegedly planted another jailhouse informant in Robert’s cell block. In exchange for fingering Robert and Cheron, this third informant was given immunity in his own case.
According to the lawsuit, police and prosecutors then “engaged in a conspiracy to prevent the information related to exculpatory evidence of the informant’s immunity…from being discovered.” Once that conspiracy was broken, Robert’s defense lawyers were able to get all charges dropped against him.
Maddeningly, the two innocent men remain embroiled in the criminal justice system. Cheron was charged with a federal felony for possessing an unrelated gun and was sentenced to eight years. His family has all moved away.
Robert was arrested last month for assault. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody at the Allegheny County Jail.