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Strange case leaves 1 dead

2 suspected robbers held in death of 3rd

Sunday, January 06, 2002

By Michael A. Fuoco and Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

Something strange and violent occurred the morning of Dec. 29 inside Apartment 104 of the Lemonwood Acres housing community just outside Uniontown.

State police believe that three males -- two men and a juvenile -- entered the North Union apartment of Joyce E. Green about 8 a.m. armed with guns and intent on robbing people who were attending a party there.

What happened next was, by turns, bizarre and confusing.

The result was that all three robbers were hit by gunfire -- one of them, Charles L. Lendell, 28, fatally.

Authorities said the fatal shot was fired by one of the partygoers -- James S. Thompson, 46 -- but they won't prosecute him because he was acting in self-defense.

Homicide charges were lodged against the two accused of being the robbers who survived their wounds -- David A. Sims, 33, and Antonio T. Lanko, 16, both of Uniontown -- because they are accused of committing a felony when someone was killed. Lanko has been charged as an adult. Both are also charged with robbery, burglary and conspiracy.

There are still gaps and some inconsistencies in what police have been told about how the drama unfolded. It is hoped that a preliminary hearing scheduled for Thursday before North Union District Justice Deberah Kula might help clear up some of the ambiguity and contradictions in the case.

State Trooper David Davison of the Uniontown barracks, the lead investigator, admitted some frustrations in the probe, such as being unable to track down numerous witnesses who were in the apartment's kitchen and living room.

"The majority of the people don't really want to cooperate," he said, adding that it's possible drugs were involved in the incident.

Thus far, this is what investigators have put together:

Green told police that Sims, who she knew only by his street name, "Taboo," knocked at her rear door. She said she let him in.

Another witness, Cedric Greer, said he was outside when he saw the three men, whom he knew, walk in through the front door. Greer said he heard Sims loudly say, "Give it up! Give me everything! Empty your pockets!"

Witnesses inside said the three men were armed. Green said she heard arguing and looked out of her bedroom to see two men who weren't there previously. They were wearing dark masks over their faces and Sims was holding a gun to Thompson's head. One of the masked men fired a shot, causing her to retreat to the bedroom.

Davison said police believed Lendell shot Lanko in the leg.

"The first shot was an accident," Davison said.

Somehow, Thompson got hold of a gun. Whose gun and from where is unknown at this point, Davison said.

In any event, Thompson began firing. Lanko had already left the apartment in pain, limping from the leg wound. As the bullets flew, Lendell and Sims followed out of the rear door.

A short time later, Lendell's body was found near a shed behind Apartment 74.



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