- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A judge on Tuesday dismissed a criminal homicide charge filed against a man in the murder of a childhood friend in southwestern Pennsylvania more than four decades ago.

A district judge in Fayette County ruled after a preliminary hearing that there wasn’t enough evidence to support the charge against 58-year-old Joseph Leos of Mount Pleasant.

Fourteen-year-old John David Watson Jr. had biked to a motel to buy cigarettes for his mother in May 1974, but never returned. His body was found on a neighbor’s property in Dunbar Township the next morning with a bullet in the back of the head.

State police said last month that new tests done on an old blue coat belonging to the defendant after the case was reopened in 2009 turned up gunshot residue, but Magisterial District Judge Michael Metros said that wasn’t enough.

“Five particles of gunshot residue does not make a case. The testimony presented had gaping holes,” Metros said Tuesday, according to The (Uniontown) Herald-Standard.

Leos’ attorney, Blaine Jones II, argued that Leos had been interviewed several times by police after the victim’s death, and no charges were ever filed against him.

“We are ecstatic,” Jones said. “Joe gets his life back. Joe has maintained his innocence for 41 years.”

District Attorney Jack R. Heneks Jr. said prosecutors plan on refiling the homicide charge.

Leos was charged last month on the recommendation of an investigating grand jury that alleged that Watson was killed because of an “interpersonal relationship,” a statement upon which prosecutors have declined to elaborate. Authorities said in an affidavit filed to support the charges that Leos had never mentioned firing a weapon.

Watson had left home at about 9 p.m. on May 2, 1974, and stopped to play pinball at the motel, according to the police affidavit. Witnesses saw him biking home with his purchase and waved. Police believe he was killed at about 9:30 p.m. Leos, who was 17 at the time, was staying nearby with his grandmother in the Wheeler Bottom section of Dunbar Township, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Watson’s brother told the Daily Courier of Connellsville two years ago that his mother, Sara Watson, had died not knowing who killed her son, but he was optimistic that detectives reworking the case could learn what happened.


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