Office of Attorney General Secures First-Degree Murder Conviction in Drug Deal Shooting

May 1, 2017 | Topic: Criminal

Attorney General Josh Shapiro: “ A jury has spoken and convicted Amirae Benton of first-degree murder in a callous crime involving a drug robbery gone bad”

PITTSBURGH — The Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro has secured a jury conviction for first-degree murder of a man who plotted with his co-conspirator to shoot and kill an acquaintance to keep him from linking them to a shooting during a drug deal and robbery in Pittsburgh in 2015.

Amirae Benton, 19, of Manchester, was convicted on Friday of first-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy and related offenses following a trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani.

Benton’s conviction relates to the Oct. 11, 2015, shooting death of Justin Granda in Pittsburgh’s Arlington neighborhood and an earlier, related drug robbery in Turtle Creek.

“A jury has spoken and convicted Amirae Benton of first-degree murder in a callous crime involving a drug robbery gone bad,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Our prosecutors and Pittsburgh and Allegheny County police did a tremendous job working this case. Now, justice will be served.”

The evidence at trial showed Benton and Lucas Guggenheimer travelled by cab from Pittsburgh to a residence in Turtle Creek to buy marijuana. Guggenheimer pulled a 9mm semiautomatic gun to rob the drug seller, and shot the seller’s brother in the leg.

Granda fled the Turtle Creek residence and returned to the cab, leaving his cell phone at the scene.  The three men – Benton, Guggenheimer and Granda – returned to Pittsburgh in the cab. On the cab ride back, Granda was anxious about leaving his phone back at Turtle Creek.

Shortly after the three men returned to Pittsburgh, a witness observed two men chasing Granda – and shooting at him. Granda fell in front of the witness’s residence, where one of the two men shot several times into the fallen Granda. Prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General contended Benton and Guggenheimer were so angry at Granda for leaving his phone behind – potentially tying them to the  crime – that they killed him.

“All the evidence points to that man [Benton] chasing a human being and shooting him like an animal on the cold street of Arlington Avenue,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Laura Ditka said in her closing argument in Benton’s trial.

The shell casings at the murder scene matched a shell casing found at the Turtle Creek robbery scene and the bullet recovered from the robbery victim’s leg.

A witness came forward in December 2016 and disclosed that while he was housed with Benton in the Allegheny County Jail, Benton admitted to the robbery and the killing of Granda.

On February 6, 2017, Guggenheimer, of Carnegie, was convicted of third-degree murder in Granda’s slaying. Guggenheimer is scheduled to be sentenced on May 4. Benton is to be sentenced on July 19.

The Office of Attorney General accepted jurisdiction of the case under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr., who cited a conflict of interest (Benton’s mother is an employee of the District Attorney’s Office).

“Collaboration among different law enforcement agencies helped solve this case,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “We thank Special Agent Kelly Roberts from our office, Pittsburgh Homicide Detective Ed Fallert, Pittsburgh police, Allegheny County police, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office, Turtle Creek police and investigators at the Allegheny County Jail for their hard work. It made all the difference.”

# # #