Crime

Accomplice in killing of Syracuse University student found not guilty of second-degree murder, guilty of first-degree robbery

Onondaga County Sheriff's Office

Cameron Isaac, left, and Ninimbe Mitchell, right, were charged with first- and second-degree murder in connection to SU student Xiaopeng "Pippen" Yuan's death. Mitchell was found not guilty of murder but guilty of first-degree robbery. Isaac was convicted on Tuesday of first-degree murder.

A jury on Wednesday found a North Syracuse man not guilty of a second-degree murder charge in connection to the death of Syracuse University student Xiaopeng “Pippen” Yuan.

Jurors did, however, find Ninimbe Mitchell, 20, guilty of robbery in the first degree, which is punishable in New York state by between five and 25 years in prison.

The verdicts were announced one day after Mitchell’s uncle, Cameron Isaac, was convicted on a first-degree murder charge connected to the same incident.

Prosecutors alleged that Isaac robbed Yuan of 2 pounds of marijuana and subsequently killed him last fall, and that Mitchell acted as a willing accomplice by driving Isaac to and from the incident.

After Wednesday’s verdict was announced, the judge overseeing the case, John Brunetti, briefly dismissed jurors before determining whether to accept their verdict. Mitchell’s defense lawyer, Paul Carey, then told Brunetti he felt it was “repugnant” that jurors found Mitchell guilty of the first-degree robbery charge despite finding him not guilty of murder.

Mitchell received the murder charge because prosecutors alleged that he participated willingly in a robbery that turned deadly. Carey believed Wednesday’s verdict thus contradicted itself and hinted that he would appeal the robbery conviction.

Brunetti told Carey that he disagreed with him and that jurors had the right to render the verdicts that they did.

Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told Brunetti he found the verdict acceptable.

Wednesday’s verdict marked the end of a trial at the Onondaga County Criminal Courthouse in which the two defendants’ cases were considered simultaneously in front of one jury. Brunetti instructed jurors to give separate consideration to the charges against Isaac and Mitchell.

Jurors deliberated most of the day Tuesday and all day Wednesday before delivering their verdict for Mitchell. They rendered their guilty verdict for Isaac after deliberating for about five hours Tuesday.

Paul Carey, Mitchell’s defense attorney, argued during the trial that Mitchell was unaware of Isaac’s plan to rob Yuan when he agreed to drive him. Instead, Mitchell was simply an innocent “Uber driver” for Isaac, Carey argued.

Yuan was found dead at the Springfield Garden Apartments complex in DeWitt around 1 p.m. on Sept. 30.

Prosecutors say that Isaac and Yuan arranged to meet at the complex that afternoon, when Yuan believed he was going to sell 2 pounds of marijuana to Isaac in exchange for $5,400. Instead, prosecutors say, Isaac robbed Yuan of the marijuana and shot him twice after he chased Isaac, killing him with a shot to his right side.

Prosecutors pointed to frequent communication between Isaac and Mitchell in the time leading up to the robbery as evidence that Mitchell was aware of the plans. Authorities were unable to recover evidence from Mitchell’s phone because they didn’t have its passcode.

Brunetti set a Sept. 6 sentencing date for Mitchell’s robbery conviction.

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