Two face trial in homicide of York City drug dealer

Liz Evans Scolforo, 505-5429/@LizScolforoYD

Two men are now facing trial, accused of killing York City resident Ryan Small during a drug deal gone bad.

Small should have been among a group of young people targeted by York City's Group Violence Intervention initiative, but he was fatally shot about five weeks before the Feb. 21 call-in meeting.

Leon White III

At the call-in, eight young people were told by officials and community leaders that the community is here to support and help them, but local, state and federal agencies will come down hard on those who continue to commit gun violence — as well as all their associates.

York City Police Chief Wes Kahley was one of a number of officials and community members who spoke to the troubled eight, and he showed them a photo of Small.

The 22-year-old York City resident was fatally shot Jan. 15 in the city's west end after being lured there to sell drugs, according to court documents.

"This young man was scheduled to sit beside you," Kahley told the eight. "Unfortunately, we can't help him. He doesn't get that choice. ... So take my message and share it. Take it to the streets, take it to your friends."

The homicide: York City detectives have charged Leon G. White III and Vernon A. Cox Jr. with Small's homicide. Both are facing trial after the cases against them were forwarded to York County Court for trial by District Judge Joel Toluba on Monday morning.

White, 27, of 1630 Mount Rose Ave. in Spring Garden Township, and Cox, 29, of 130 S. Hartley St. in York City, remain in York County Prison without bail, each charged with homicide and being a convicted felon in illegal firearm possession.

Vernon Cox Jr.

Cox also remains charged with robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, but those two offenses were withdrawn in White's case.

That's because Cox stipulated to the facts against him, then had his entire case bound over for court. His attorney, Jennifer Smith, said Cox chose to do that rather than waive his right to a preliminary hearing altogether.

White — who police said is also known as Ratiki Drakeford — chose to have his preliminary hearing, at the close of which defense attorney Rick Robinson argued prosecutors had not shown sufficient evidence to suggest White had robbed Small.

Chief deputy prosecutor Dave Sunday agreed with Robinson and withdrew the robbery charges. After the hearing, he told The York Dispatch that the investigation into Small's death and apparent robbery remain active and that the robbery charges can be refiled against White if prosecutors determine there's enough evidence to do so.

Testifying at Monday's hearing were York County Detectives Travis Sowers and Tim Shermeyer.

What detectives found: Sowers said Small's cellphone revealed text exchanges with White that he said referred to White buying marijuana from Small.

White instructed Small to go to the 200 block of South Hartley Street — just yards from Cox's home — and Small was fatally shot a short time later, according to the detective.

Ryan Small was supposed to be one of the people targeted for CeaseFire York's call-in on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, but he was gunned down on Jan. 15, 2017.

Small fled in his car after being shot twice in the stomach but crashed head-on into another vehicle near Princess and Hartley streets, charging documents state. Small was taken to York Hospital and pronounced dead just after 10 p.m., according to the York County Coroner's Office.

Sowers said investigators then obtained a search warrant and seized White's phone. They found text exchanges between White and his girlfriend, including one in which White allegedly asks, "Did you show anyone the messages about me killing the boy?"

At the time Small was gunned down, White's cellphone was pinging off the two closest cellphone towers to the intersection of West Princess and South Hartley streets, Sowers testified.

White's girlfriend also turned over his clothing to police, saying he'd given her the clothing and told her to get rid of it, according to Sowers, who said gunshot residue was found on the right sleeve of White's jacket.

Jewelry, cash missing: Shermeyer testified that Small's family said he was wearing a watch and neck chain that day and usually kept $2,000 in the glove box of his car but that all those items were missing.

Under cross-examination by Robinson, Shermeyer confirmed none of the purportedly stolen items was found in White's possession.

Two York men charged with homicide

Police allege Cox, known as "Vito," was in possession of the gun used to kill Small and tried to hide it when investigators came to his home to look for it. The 9 mm handgun was loaded with bullets that matched casings found at the homicide scene and in Small's vehicle, according to detectives.

Police also allege White told them he set up the drug deal for Cox and that the next day Cox admitted he killed Small. Police allege both men were involved in the homicide.

White and Cox are scheduled for formal court arraignment on March 31.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.