Guilty of manslaughter

WARREN – A jury took slightly more than three hours Friday to find a 34-year-old Niles man guilty of involuntary manslaughter and attempted aggravated burglary for his role as an accomplice in an attempted home break-in in which his friend was shot to death.

Michael Burns showed little reaction to the verdict that one female juror said took longer than expected because ”the law was complicated and vague, even though the facts of the case weren’t (complicated).”

The jury discarded an option of finding Burns guilty of murder, which could have meant a life sentence with parole eligibility after 15 years.

The manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 11 years and the burglary charge, eight years.

Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan scheduled sentencing for Jan. 14.

Jurors said they mostly wrestled with the issue of whether a crowbar used by the three intruders was intended to be used as a weapon, or simply a criminal tool to pry open a door.

The jury thought of the bar as more of a tool rather than a weapon, which could have opened the door for a murder conviction.

Assistant county prosecutor Chris Becker still called the verdict ”very satisfying.”

”This still sends a clear message to homeowners and residents defending their homes. It was a good result,” Becker said, praising the work of Niles police, including lead investigator Detective Jim Robbins, who got a confession out of Burns.

Burns and another man were with their friend, Terry Allen, when he was killed July 12 by a shotgun blast through the front door of the Niles-Cortland Road home of Roy Hahn, 41, who was cleared by authorities.

Becker told jurors the trio and two women planned to steal copper from the home and use the proceeds to go to the Trumbull County Fair.

Hahn told jurors earlier in the week about being awakened after midnight and noticing at least two men running from the back door to his front door. He said he heard the obvious noises of someone trying to pry their way into the home.

He said he feared for his life before getting the shotgun he normally uses to hunt deer and firing one blast from the 16 gauge through the wooden door, calling police afterwards. The blast also hit Burns in the upper right arm and he never sought any medical attention for the wound until at least a week after he was arrested by U.S. marshals after hiding out in Carroll County.

It wasn’t the first time Burns was struck by gunfire.

In May of 2004, Austintown police said Burns suffered a gunshot wound to the leg during what was described as a ”drug deal gone bad” in the parking lot of a Burger King there.

Later that year, Burns was sentenced to two years in prison for trafficking drugs in Mahoning County. He did 16 months in prison for burglary in 2002 out of Mahoning County.

And earlier this year, Burns served 15 days in jail for criminal trespass and theft.

”Michael Burns is not a murderer. They didn’t need a weapon. They were thieves, but there was no act of violence,” said attorney Ron Yarwood, who represented Burns.

Police also charged Scott Crislip, 18, also of Niles, with trying to break into the house.

Allen’s wife, Nichole, 35, of Mineral Ridge, and Mindy Sierra, 32, of McDonald, face the same charges as Burns and Crislip. Police say they had left the scene of the shooting after dropping off the three men and drank coffee waiting to pick the men up later. All remain in Trumbull County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bond and Sierra, who has several children with Burns, is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Becker said he thinks the verdict in Burns’ case will prompt possible plea deals in the other cases.