WILKES-BARRE — A West Hazleton man accused of shooting and killing a 17-year-old during a botched drug deal earlier this summer has pleaded not guilty to the charge in county court.
Brandon Joseph Gambardella, 18, appeared for arraignment Friday before Luzerne County Judge Fred A. Pierantoni III. Gambardella is facing an open count of criminal homicide after investigators say he fatally shot Anthony Bonney on June 18.
Gambardella entered a plea of not guilty through his attorney, Mark Buffalino.
Pierantoni set Gambardella’s trial for April 8, 2019. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Feb. 28, 2019.
According to police:
Gambardella and Bonney met after Gambardella agreed via Facebook messenger to purchase cocaine from Bonney and James Joseph Shanda for $110.
However, Bonney and Shanda did not truly have cocaine, but decided to go along with the deal anyway, attempting to pass off drywall shavings and baking soda for the drug.
Gambardella met the pair at Freeland Public Park after he was driven there by two females.
Bonney and Shanda approached the car, and the deal was completed. Gambardella asked to test the cocaine, prompting Bonney and Shanda to flee.
Gambardella gave chase. Moments later, the females said they heard gunshots. They said when Gambardella returned to the vehicle, he said he didn’t mean for the shooting to happen.
Shanda told police he saw Bonney drop after he heard the gunshots.
Bonney was transported to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, where he died several hours later after suffering a gunshot wound to the head.
Gambardella was initially charged with two counts of aggravated assault, but prosecutors withdrew those counts after Bonney’s death.
Gambardella remains locked up at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility without bail as he awaits trial.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan