Teen pleads guilty to committing murder at 14 years old
Admitted murderer Leonard Anthony Green III did his best in York County Court to explain why he fatally shot 17-year-old Patrick Winter when Green was just 14 years old.
Green, now 17, pleaded guilty Wednesday to third-degree murder, six counts of reckless endangerment, possession of a firearm by a minor and firearms not to be carried without a license. In exchange for his plea, a charge of first-degree murder will be dismissed at sentencing.
York County District Attorney's Office spokesman Kyle King said that, to his knowledge, Green is the youngest person to be charged with murder in York County.
It was an open plea, and presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock explained that means he has great latitude in sentencing. The judge ordered a full pre-sentence investigation and set Green's sentencing date for March 2.
"Anything can happen," he warned Green. "You don't have a plea bargain protecting you."
The background: Winter was sitting in his car in the 300 block of East King Street in York City about 12:25 a.m. June 14, 2014, waiting to drive people home from a party, when Green walked up to the car and fired twice into the driver-side window before running away, according to York City Police.
Winter, of West Manchester Township, died of a gunshot wound to the torso. The reckless endangerment counts are for the half-dozen young women in and around Winter's car at the time.
In court Wednesday, the judge asked Green to speak about the homicide in detail, including events leading up to it.
"Why did this happen when you were so young?" Trebilcock asked. "That's a concern of mine."
Green obliged, telling the judge he woke up that day and started drinking Hennessy cognac and popping Xanax pills.
Drinking, drugging: He said he met up with various friends throughout the day and smoked K2, also known as spice and synthetic marijuana, before going to the party on East King Street. About midnight, the party was shut down for some reason, and he and a number of other partygoers were hanging around outside, he said — including Winter, who was sitting in his car, surrounded by girls.
"I heard my name coming from that direction," Green told the judge. "I heard the b— word. I can't really put it together after that."
Green said he walked over to Winter's car, pulled his .380 handgun — which he said he bought "on the streets" for $180 — and fired it twice into the driver-side area of the car.
When the judge pressed the teen to explain why he wanted to shoot Winter, Green was unable to provide a satisfying answer, other than that he believed Winter had called him a b—.
"He wasn't my friend," Green said. "He wasn't really an enemy."
Police have said Green told them one of the reasons he shot Winter was because the victim had "disrespected" one of Green's friends.
The attorneys: Defense attorney Heather Reiner said Green intends to apologize to the Winter family at his sentencing hearing.
"He appreciates the fact that he took a life, and he does feel sorry," she said. "He's never denied being the shooter."
Reiner said third-degree murder is the appropriate grading in this case because there was no premeditation.
Chief deputy prosecutor David Maisch said he'll be talking with York City Detective Travis Sowers, lead investigator in the case, as well as with Winter's family about an appropriate sentence to request.
"We're putting it in the hands of the judge to make the right decision," the prosecutor said.
The maximum sentence Trebilcock can hand down is 32 to 64 years, Maisch said, and he confirmed that at sentencing he will introduce the wealth of troubling information about Green that was revealed during the teen's juvenile decertification hearing. That hearing, held in July 2015, was to determine if Green's case should be moved to juvenile court.
A judge ruled Green would stand trial as an adult and noted the teen is "seasoned into the criminal culture."
Troubled childhood: Green was kicked out of two preschool programs by the age of 3; killed a cat with a BB gun out of boredom before he turned 10; and made threats with an air rifle at school by the time he was 12, according to testimony from the decertification hearing.
A forensic psychiatrist retained by the prosecution testified Green has antisocial personality disorder but isn't mentally ill.
A month before Green murdered Winter, he was in illegal possession of a loaded handgun and ran from York City officers trying to arrest him for it, according to documents previously obtained by The York Dispatch.
Green fled from the 900 block of Wellington Street when officers arrived, and he dropped a loaded .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, which police seized, those documents state. Green got away, but officers arrested him five days later for having the illegal gun, at which point Green thrice gave police a fake name, according to documents.
The officers contacted the county's juvenile probation department about having Green committed to juvenile detention, but no beds were available anywhere, documents state.
Green was 6 feet tall and 170 pounds at the time of the murder and was a student at Jackson K-8, according to court documents.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.