Crime

Verdicts likely this week in murder trial concerning Syracuse University student Xiaopeng Yuan’s death

Onondaga County Sheriff's Office

Cameron Isaac, left, and Ninimbe Mitchell, right, are charged with murder in connection to the death of Syracuse University student Xiaopeng "Pippen" Yuan.

Verdicts are likely this week in the trial of the two men charged with murdering a Syracuse University student.

Cameron Isaac, 24, of North Syracuse and Ninimbe Mitchell, 20, of North Syracuse face first- and second-degree murder charges, respectively, in connection to the death of Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan.

The trial of the two men, which began Aug. 7, resumes Monday morning at the Onondaga County/City of Syracuse Criminal Courthouse as their defense attorneys will continue presenting evidence. The judge overseeing the trial, John Brunetti, said Friday he expects jurors will begin deliberating Tuesday, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of deliberations beginning Monday.

Brunetti has instructed the jury to give separate consideration to Isaac and Mitchell and the charges against them. It is possible that the jury could find Isaac guilty and Mitchell not guilty.

Prosecutors allege that Isaac and Mitchell successfully coordinated to rob Yuan of 2 pounds of marijuana and that Isaac killed Yuan during the robbery. Mitchell, who allegedly drove Isaac to and from the crime scene, is accused of acting as a knowing accomplice to Isaac.

It is unclear whether Isaac or Mitchell will take the witness stand. Syracuse-based defense attorneys William Sullivan and Paul Carey are representing Isaac and Mitchell, respectively.

Sullivan is arguing that Yuan had a thriving business as a marijuana dealer, and as a result, developed business rivals and enemies who may have had motive to kill him.

Carey is arguing that Mitchell simply acted as an “Uber driver” for Isaac and had no knowledge of his alleged plans to rob Yuan.

The prosecution, led by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, finished presenting evidence Friday afternoon and rested its case. During testimony of the case’s lead detective Laura Collins, the prosecution presented text messages between Yuan and Isaac showing the two arranged to meet at the Springfield Garden Apartments on the day of Yuan’s death.

In another text message prosecutors presented, Isaac told a friend he was “drawing up a play” in reference to his arranged deal with Yuan. Collins testified that “drawing up a play” is informal terminology for planning a robbery.

Testifying earlier in the week was Rafal Dobrowolski, an expert in cellphone mapping and analysis. He used Google Maps to display to jurors that the cellphones belonging to Isaac and Mitchell were in roughly the same location where Yuan was killed at the time he was filled.

Dobrowolski uses cell tower information to track locations of phones. When a cellphone sends a signal to a cell tower, it can then be traced to the approximate area where the cellphone is located.

Dobrowolski’s analysis found that the cellphones of Isaac and Mitchell moved from North Syracuse to an area in DeWitt in the hour leading up to Yuan’s death. By 12:54 p.m., minutes after the gunshot that killed Yuan was reported, the phones of Isaac and Mitchell were beginning to move back toward North Syracuse, according to Dobrowolski’s analysis.

Other key testimony came from Matthew Kurimsky, a firearms examiner for Onondaga County who examined evidence following Yuan’s death. Kurimsky, the last witness the prosecution called, testified that the fatal bullet recovered from Yuan’s body was “unusually” similar to bullets authorities discovered in Isaac’s apartment.

Kurimsky testified on Friday that the physical design of the bullet recovered from Yuan’s body was unlike any he had ever seen — until he later examined ammunition that authorities found in Isaac’s apartment. He said the bullet that killed Yuan was “very similar” to the bullets discovered in Isaac’s apartment, sharing “many of the same characteristics.”

Before the trial broke for the weekend, the defense on Friday called two witnesses to the stand: Jeffrey Demperio and John Johnson, employees at Springfield Garden Apartments.

Demperio testified that he had seen an Asian male, whom he believed to be Yuan, at the apartment complex multiple times prior to Sept. 30. Johnson then testified that he had seen Yuan’s black Chevrolet Camaro at the complex twice before Sept. 30. Detectives have said their investigation revealed Yuan’s visit to the complex on Sept. 30 was his first.

The defense will call its third witness when the trial resumes at 9:15 a.m. on Monday.

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