The last time Andrew Mierzejewski stood before a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge, he was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted for involvement in the April, 1997, shooting death of a man at an East Toledo party.
Thursday, he returned to court with the hope of a new trial.
Sentenced in 1998 for complicity to commit murder for the death of John Barnhart, Mierzejewski is asking for a new trial on a claim of new evidence. He was convicted of verbally prompting shooter Richard Sheehy and of driving the getaway vehicle.
Thursday, Mierzejewski's cousin, Michael Billegas, testified that he was at the party and that it was he who encouraged Sheehy to pull the trigger, not Mierzejewski. Billegas testified Thursday that he did not testify at Mierzejewski's trial because he was not guaranteed that he would not be charged.
He added that he finally came forward in 2009 in an affidavit that was filed with Mierzejewski's motion for a new trial. In the affidavit, Billegas said he was the only one yelling to Sheehy to "do him up."
"I think he's done quite a bit of time for not doing anything," Billegas said in court Thursday as to why it had taken him more than a decade to come forward. "I feel he should come home."
Billegas, 30, pleaded guilty at the time to inciting violence and was sentenced to community control.
The 1997 incident began when Mierzejewski and Mr. Barnhart argued during a party in the backyard of Sheehy's home. After Sheehy showed a handgun, Mr. Barnhart and another youth left.
Sheehy went to the front of the house and then opened fire with the gun as the auto began to drive away. He was accompanied by Mierzejewski and Billegas, who was 17 at the time.
A response filed by the prosecutor's office to the motion for a new trial asked Judge Frederick McDonald to deny the motion, saying the jury had testimony from several conflicting witnesses yet was able to reach a decision. Thursday, Assistant Prosecutor Frank Spryszak further added that a new trial could only be granted if certain criteria are met, including if new evidence were discovered.
"Other witnesses testified at the trial similar to what Mr. Billegas testified to Friday, including Sheehy," Mr. Spryszak argued, noting that the shooter's original statements were that Mierzejewski did not say anything to prompt him. "This testimony does not constitute newly discovered evidence."
Mierzejewski's attorney, Rick Kerger, countered that had Billegas testified in 1997, "the testimony would have exonerated the defendant."
He further argued that Billegas' right to invoke his right not to incriminate himself meant that Mierzejewski's jury did not have all the facts.
The decision is now up to Judge McDonald as to whether to grant Mierzejewski a new trial.
Members of the victim's family who attended the hearing Thursday declined to comment.
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