Bruce Williams Jr.
Bruce Williams Jr.

A York County judge mulling the fate of a convicted York City murderer who was a juvenile when the killing happened said he had to decide whether Bruce Williams Jr. was basically a good person in a bad circumstance or someone who is "not capable of following basic rules of civility or society."

Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn decided on the latter.

On Thursday, he sentenced Williams to a total of 20 to 46 years in state prison and gave him credit for the more than two years he has already served.

Williams Jr. was 17 years old when he shot and killed customer Jesse Heverling, 32, during a dispute inside a York City crackhouse.

A jury in August found him guilty of third-degree murder and carrying a concealed firearm without a license.

Now 19, Williams maintains his innocence. At his sentencing hearing Thursday he told the judge, "I'm sorry for the loss ... of Jesse Heverling, sir."

Witnesses: Defense attorney Dawn Cutaia called three women to testify on behalf of her client -- his mother, Tania Hampton, and two teachers' assistants who worked with Williams at Lindbergh Academy, an alternative school for at-risk kids.

Both Jacqueline Cochran and Latisha Brown said Williams was a respectful student who did his work, didn't start trouble and helped younger students.

Brown said Williams grasped things easily, has potential and could be successful in college.

But chief deputy prosecutor David Maisch noted Williams has a troubling juvenile record, which includes being adjudicated guilty of being involved in a riot in William Penn Senior High School and having sex with a 12-year-old girl.

'Failed the system': The juvenile system gave Williams a chance to turn himself around, according to the prosecutor, but Williams continued down the path of crime and is now a threat to society.

"The system did not fail him," Maisch told the judge. "He failed the system."

Cutaia urged the judge to consider "the potential my client has to maybe provide some benefit to society" after he's released from prison. She asked Renn to impose a 15- to 30-year sentence.

"He may have been convicted of a very adult crime," she said. "But he is still a ... kid."

Judge Renn expressed concern about Williams' juvenile record and his "antisocial behavior" in prison over the last two years while awaiting trial.

Williams' family, including his younger siblings, cried aloud in court after hearing Renn impose sentence.

The case: According to Maisch, Williams was angry that Heverling complained about the quality of crack cocaine sold to him by Williams.

On Nov. 10, 2011, Heverling went to a location on South Belvidere Avenue, a known crackhouse, Maisch said. Williams acted as manager of that crackhouse, York City Police said.

Heverling bought crack from Williams and went into a bedroom of the home to smoke it, but was dissatisfied with what he thought was the inferior quality of the drug, according to Maisch, who said Williams was not happy about that.

As Heverling left the house, Williams pushed another crackhouse customer out of the way, walked to the door and fired four gunshots, hitting Heverling three times, Maisch said -- in the arm, the leg and the chest.

-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at