Prosecutors withdrew homicide charges against a suspect charged with killing his girlfriend in Pittsburgh last August after a key witness went missing. However, the suspect will stand trial on a related charge of carrying a handgun without a license.
The prosecutors have another witness who saw the suspect in possession of the firearm on several occasions. The same firearm was allegedly used in the killing. Once the missing witness is located, they will likely refile the homicide charge.
This case demonstrates an interesting aspect of the law. Firstly, there is no statute of limitations with homicide offenses like murder, which means prosecutors can file charges at any time and will withdraw charges if their case is not fully ready to go. Secondly, gun or weapons charges can be a handy tool in a prosecutor's arsenal as it is far easier to prove a weapons charge in this state than it is to prove a more complex offense like murder. In this case, it appears the prosecutors are content to delay the murder charges and pursue a weapons conviction in the meantime.
In this instance, the prosecutors are able to go forward to trial with a single witness's testimony that the suspect possessed a handgun. The laws governing handgun possession in Pennsylvania are quite strict. Merely carrying a concealed handgun without a license can be a violation of Pennsylvania's Uniform Firearms Act and a third degree felony.
However, as with all criminal offenses, possession of a handgun must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Experienced criminal defense attorneys know that these cases are never quite as cut and dry as the prosecution would make them seem, and there are ways of challenging the credibility of all of the evidence and testimony a prosecutor may bring to trial.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Judge drops homicide charge; Jim McKinnon, 10/16/2010