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Steuben jury convicts man of murder in shooting death

An Angola man was found guilty Saturday of murder and other charges, accused of fatally shooting a man after a drug deal in Steuben County last summer.

Prosecutors alleged Zao Burrell, 25, shot and killed 40-year-old Brent Donbroski after selling him methamphetamine last June in a mobile home east of Angola.

During the trial that began March 8, the jury heard from dozens of witnesses, including forensic experts and law enforcement officers. Closing arguments were delivered Saturday morning, and jurors deliberated for just over three hours before reaching verdicts.

“It was a big case, and we’re happy for the family of the victim,” Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Musser said. “I’m glad it’s over for them.”

While disappointed with the outcome, Burrell’s court-appointed attorney, Linda Wagoner, praised the efforts of the jury.

“It was a very attentive, engaged jury,” she said. “The jury worked very hard and came up with great questions.”

Along with murder, Burrell was found guilty of felony murder and attempted murder, as well as a misdemeanor charge of carrying a handgun without a license. The charge of felony murder accused Burrell of killing Donbroski while dealing methamphetamine.

The attempted murder charge stemmed from allegations that Burrell fired 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 occurred. Forrester, who testified against Burrell, faces charges of dealing meth and assisting a criminal. Those charges are pending in Steuben Superior Court.

Burrell was arrested the next day in Fort Wayne after police received a tip. He led officers on another chase and was taken into custody in the parking lot of the Scott’s Food store on North Clinton Street.

In his opening statement, Steuben County Prosecutor Michael Hess said Burrell shot Donbroski in the chest with a .45-caliber handgun after the older man asked to have his newly purchased meth re-weighed. Forrester and Burrell put Donbroski in the back of a pickup truck and someone else drove him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Hess said.

In Wagoner’s opening, she said there were enough discrepancies in the testimony and evidence to give the jurors reason to find reasonable doubt in favor of Burrell.

It was not the first time Burrell stood trial. Last April, a Steuben Superior Court jury acquitted him of a felony charge of manufacturing meth. In September 2011, a federal court jury acquitted him of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Burrell is set to be sentenced April 5. He will receive a sentence of at least 45 years on the murder conviction, Musser said.

Wagoner said she is certain her client will want to appeal his convictions.