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Murder trial under way in alleged Steuben meth deal


– After a day and a half of jury selection, the murder trial of Zao Burrell started Friday in Steuben Superior Court.

Burrell, 25, is accused of fatally shooting 40-year-old Brent Donbroski after selling him methamphetamine in a mobile home east of Angola last June.

Along with murder, Steuben County Prosecutor Michael Hess charged Burrell with felony murder and attempted murder, as well as a misdemeanor charge of carrying a handgun without a license.

The charge of felony murder accuses Burrell of murdering Donbroski while in the act of dealing methamphetamine.

Burrell faces the attempted murder charge for allegedly firing multiple shots at a Steuben County deputy during a car chase that ended in Ohio. Burrell eluded police, bailing out of a still-moving car driven by his father and fleeing into a wooded area.

Also in the car was Michael Forrester, who lived in the home where the shooting took place. Forrester faces charges of dealing in methamphetamine and assisting a criminal. Those charges are pending in Steuben Superior Court.

Burrell was picked up the next day in Fort Wayne after police received a tip – but not until after another chase, this time with Burrell taken into custody in the parking lot of the Scott’s Foods store on North Clinton Avenue.

It is not Burrell’s first trial. Last April, a Steuben Superior Court jury acquitted him of a felony charge of manufacturing methamphetamine. In September 2011, a federal court jury acquitted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Steuben Superior Court Judge William Fee originally picked five alternate jurors for the trial, which is to continue through next Friday, but one was dismissed because the jury room was too crowded in the small Steuben County courthouse.

During opening statements Friday, Hess said there was bad blood between Burrell and Donbroski. Burrell shot Donbroski after the older man asked to have his newly purchased meth re-weighed, Hess said.

According to Hess, Burrell drew a black .45-caliber handgun from his waistband and shot Donbroski in the chest. Forrester and Burrell put Donbroski in the back of a pickup truck and someone else drove him to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Hess said.

During the trial, forensic evidence will be presented linking the handgun that Burrell tossed from the car in Fort Wayne to a bullet that penetrated the radiator of the deputy’s vehicle, shell casings along the road, inside the car Burrell was in and inside the mobile home, Hess said.

Forrester would offer testimony against Burrell, as would a man who was in the Steuben County jail with him, Hess said.

“It all ties together,” Hess said.

But Burrell’s defense attorney Linda Wagoner said there are enough discrepancies in the testimony and evidence to give the jurors reason to find reasonable doubt in favor of Burrell.

“We don’t need to ruin the life of another man, based on improper evidence … or purchased testimony,” Wagoner said.

Burrell appeared dramatically different Friday compared with the police booking photo taken shortly after his arrest.

A collared shirt covers a large “MOB” tattoo on the right side of his neck, his lip piercings are gone and his hair is grown out. He also was wearing black-framed glasses and a faint goatee.

If convicted of the charges, Burrell faces more than 45 years in prison.