A Uniontown man was found guilty of third-degree murder in the 2017 shooting death of a woman in a South Union Township housing development.
It took a jury about 90 minutes Wednesday to convict Antonio Lanko, 34, of killing Tasha Walton, 37.
In finding Lanko guilty of third-degree murder, jurors determined he did not intend to kill Walton (a finding necessary for a first-degree conviction), but also did not negligently or accidentally shoot her (which could’ve resulted in a manslaughter conviction).
Lanko testified on his own behalf Wednesday, characterizing Walton as a woman who was his best friend throughout his life.
He said on Nov. 3, 2017, he was drinking shots and smoking marijuana at his mother’s house and decided to head to his cousin’s apartment with Walton. On the way there, Lanko said, he drank more shots of liquor and took Xanax pills.
As they pulled up to his cousin’s home, Lanko said, he spotted a man who shot him about five months earlier and, being drunk and high, he got out of the car, took out a handgun and cocked it. He testified Walton also stepped out of the vehicle, stood in front of him and begged him not to shoot anyone.
Lanko testified he went back into the vehicle and ejected the magazine from the handgun. When he tried to eject the live round from the gun’s chamber, the gun went off, he testified.
Lanko told jurors he panicked, not knowing if he shot Walton, or if she was having a medical emergency. He admitted to asking his cousin to hide the gun and also admitted that he lied to police.
“I lied to everybody,” Lanko testified, adding he didn’t believe a gunshot wound to the shoulder would kill Walton. Until the medics told him she was shot, he believed she had a heart attack, Lanko testified.
“I lied for multiple reasons. I was scared and panicking. I didn’t want anyone to know that I accidentally shot her. I didn’t want to know my careless actions caused her death,” he testified under questioning from Assistant Public Defender Shane Gannon.
Under cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Sean Lementowski asked Lanko about several other versions of events he gave.
“You had a lot of time to think about what to say,” Lementowski said, asking Lanko if he ever told anyone about seeing the man who shot him.
Lanko acknowledged he never told anyone that before his testimony Wednesday.
Lementowski also confronted Lanko about comments made in taped prison phone calls in which he characterized Walton as “dead weight” while trying to move her to his cousin’s house after she was shot. In those tapes, Lanko also said that Walton wouldn’t have been shot if she were under control.
“It almost sounds like you’re blaming her,” Lementowski said.
According to prior testimony, Walton died from a single gunshot wound that entered her right arm below the shoulder where the bullet broke her sixth rib and then perforated her right lung, causing internal bleeding.
In his closing statement, Lementowski said the video and audio from Lanko following the shooting showed a man with no remorse.
He contended that Lanko’s actions like telling his cousin to hide the gun, not calling 911 or taking Walton to the hospital were not the actions of a friend.
“He was trying to get rid of evidence,” Lementowski said. “These are actions you can use to determine intent.”
Lementowski told the jury the facts of the shooting didn't add up to an involuntary manslaughter conviction as such a charge would be like someone texting while driving and causing a fatal accident.
“This is nowhere akin to texting and driving,” Lementowski said.
Gannon argued for an involuntary manslaughter conviction.
“Did Tony kill his best friend? Yes. Is that something he has to live with the rest of his life? Yes. Did he do it intentionally? No,” Gannon said.
The jury also found Lanko guilty of receiving stolen property, possession of a firearm prohibited, firearms not to be carried without a license and tampering with evidence.
He will be sentenced at a later date.