YOUNGSTOWN — Two men captured on surveillance video as one of them fired fatal gunshots into another man were convicted of murder.
A jury in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Monday found Brian Donlow Jr., 25, and Stephon Hopkins, 24, guilty of murder and being felons in possession of firearms. They will be sentenced later to life prison sentences. Judge Anthony D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court will decide whether they serve at least 18 years in prison or at least 21 years.
During the trial, jurors were shown surveillance video from near the playground at the Plaza View apartment complex on the East Side. It showed that late June 18, 2018, two men met up with Brandon Wylie, 30, and walked off with him.
Another camera angle then showed a man firing left-handed multiple shots toward the surveillance camera in the direction of where Wylie’s body was found a short time later. A second man enters the screen, approaches the location where the body is located, then the two men jog away.
The video was not clear enough for jurors to identify the two men depicted, but prosecutors said it contained enough information to help jurors identify Donlow and Hopkins.
A juror interviewed after the verdict agreed.
“It helped,” the juror said. “We saw the suspect and could tell a little bit, along with the witness testimony. It all made it come together.”
Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa said after the verdict that the video was important because there was no DNA evidence tying Donlow and Hopkins to the murder. The two guns used to kill Wylie, 30, a seven-year military veteran, were also never recovered.
“Without the video, it would have been just conjecture,” she said of tying the two men to the murder. The video “told so much more. It really told the story.”
For one thing, it showed the shooter with the gun in his left hand. It also depicted the clothing they wore. Hopkins was wearing shorts with a Nike logo that showed up well on the video. It also depicted the hair of the men.
The jury was able to see Facebook images of Hopkins wearing those same shorts, Cantalamessa said. Donlow had a distinctive type of “twists” in his hair in the video and still had them during pretrial hearings in he case. His hair was shaved short during the trial.
Testimony indicated Wylie was hit with eight to 10 gunshots, most likely from two guns, Cantalamessa said. Wylie died within seconds. A gun was found near Wylie, but it was apparently not fired, and prosecutors do not know whose it was, said assistant Prosecutor Mike Yacovone.
One woman testified Donlow and Hopkins were with her and others hanging out outside of one of the apartments a short time before the shooting took place. A second woman testified that Hopkins was among the group, but she testified that Donlow was not there.
The trial was expected to end by Friday, but jurors deliberated two hours late Friday before going home for the weekend. They deliberated about three more hours Monday morning before reaching their verdict.
The first verdicts read were that both men were not guilty of aggravated murder, but Cantalamessa said they charged the men with aggravated murder and murder in case the jury did not find that the killing was premeditated.
“If they didn’t see premeditation, that’s all right with us,” she said. As for a motive for the murder, Cantalamessa said prosecutors do not know.
Donlow and Hopkins did not outwardly react to the guilty verdicts.