Convicted at 17, murderer Jordan Wallick eyes new sentence
- Testimony began Monday in the resentencing hearing of a York man convicted of murder as a teen in 2012.
- A U.S. Supreme Court decision deemed unconstitutional all life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.
- Jordan Wallick, 15 when he pulled the trigger, was convicted in 2012 for the 2010 murder of law student James Wallmuth.
Dueling expert witnesses were more in agreement than at odds Monday in a York County Court of Common Pleas resentencing hearing for a killer who was 15 at the time of his crime.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Miller v. Alabama deemed life sentences for teens convicted of murder unconstitutional, opening up all such cases to resentencing, including that of Jordan Wallick.
Wallick,15 at the time he murdered law student James Wallmuth III during a gang-related robbery in 2010, was 17 when he was convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Judge Michael E. Bortner, who presided over the original trial, will again decide the now-21-year-old Wallick's fate.
According to the new sentencing guidelines, Bortner can again reimpose a sentence of life, but only if he finds Wallick is "irrevocably corrupt," a term one psychology expert deemed more legal than clinical, according to testimony Monday.
Expert witnesses: Forensic psychologists for both the state and the defense put Wallick through a battery of screenings and tests prior to his resentencing hearing, as was done during his original trial and sentencing hearing when he was convicted.
Dr. Larry A. Rotenberg, an expert in forensic psychology for 50 years, was a prosecution witness during the first sentencing phase. He tested Wallick then as a juvenile and again this year as an adult leading up to the new sentencing hearing.
His findings were similar to those of defense expert witness Dr. Frank Dattilio, a clinical and forensic psychologist of 30 years. Both men testified that Wallick had a deplorable upbringing, was cast about between family members and eventually ended up in the street life before the age of 10. By 7 years old, Wallick was drinking and using drugs heavily and becoming increasingly involved in crime.
Both doctors, using different steps of analysis based on their respective experiences and backgrounds, measured where Wallick falls in accordance with generally accepted classifications of personality disorders and mental-health issues, and both came away with similar results.
Dattilio said Wallick had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, a chemical imbalance that impacts learning and behavior. But, despite Rotenberg's findings, Dattilio said Wallick only showed styles — or symptoms that fall within the criteria, but run short of a full diagnosis — of the personality disorders diagnosed by Rotenberg.
Second-degree murder: Wallmuth, 28, of West Manchester Township, worked in the York County District Attorney's Office for about four years as a case manager but left his job to attend law school at the University of Pittsburgh. He was back in York to do an internship at a local law firm.
On July 28, 2010, Wallmuth was sitting on a park bench near the corner of Grant Street and West Clarke Avenue in York talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone, York City Police said.
Wallick, having recently been jumped into a gang, was given a gun by some adults and told to rob Wallmuth for his cellphone, according to testimony.
He did, but claimed Wallmuth grabbed the gun and there was an accidental discharge, striking Wallmuth in the back. Both Rotenberg and Dattillio said Wallick expressed remorse for the victim and for both the victim's family and his own, but Rotenberg said he downplays his role in the murder, minimizing and rationalizing his actions.
Wallmuth did not die instantly. Wallick told the doctors he remembers hearing Wallmuth cry out in pain, but as he walked away Wallick only thought he injured Wallmuth. He did not learn Wallmuth died until the next day, according to testimony.
Co-defendants: Co-defendant Kenneth Santiago-Curet, 22, eventually pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery and was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison. Two other co-defendants, Joshua Edmoundson and Victor Nelson Virola, have been sentenced for their roles in the murder.
Virola, who prosecutors said had the smallest role in the crime, received 11½ to 23 months in county prison. Edmoundson received five to 10 years in prison for his role in the murder and for a burglary spree he was involved in.
A danger to society: Regardless of the variances in their respective findings, both doctors agree that at present, Wallick still represents a real danger to society and should not be released any time soon. The decision Bortner will have to make is which doctor indicated the most appropriate timeline for when, or if, Wallick is to be released.
"The character of these personality disorders tend to burn out with time," Rotenberg told the court.
He conceded no psychologist or psychiatrist has a crystal ball or can predict what a person will do five, 10 or 20 years down the line, but his contention was that with time it is possible Wallick could be rehabilitated enough, by age 50 or later, to potentially re-enter society.
Dattalio agreed but cautioned that the window between rehabilitation and institutionalization is small and unpredictable. If left in jail past the point of hope for a life after prison, Wallick could regress and redevelop antisocial behaviors, he told the court.
"Not facing life gives him hope," Dattilio said, which is conducive to any potential for rehabilitation he explained. "And after 25 years a parole board would review the case," he added.
A new sentence: Bortner will have to weigh the possible psychological and social influences that led to Wallick committing murder in the first place with his potential, or lack thereof, for genuine rehabilitation.
Otherwise, if Bortner believes Wallick's mental health issues are so severe that neither time nor treatment can restore him to the point he is no longer a danger to society — irrevocably corrupt — he can reimpose a sentence of life without parole.
The state is not expecting him to do so.
Speaking during a break in testimony before a handful of Wallmuth's family members addressed the court about their loss, prosecutor David Maisch said the appropriate sentence will require a lot of consideration.
"The commonwealth is asking for a sentence of 40 years to life," Maisch said.
Defense attorney Dawn Cutaia said the best possible outcome for her client would be a sentence of 25 to 50 years.
"That's the sentence that he would like," she said.
Wallick was appealing both his conviction and his sentence at the time the Supreme Court ruling came down that made him eligible for resentencing. Regardless of the new sentence, Cutaia said all of her client's appeals have been exhausted.
"We could still appeal the issue of sentencing, but there are no other appeals," she said.
One family member is left to address the court Tuesday, then Wallick can, if he chooses, either read a statement to the court or speak on his own behalf. He can also opt to say nothing.
Either way, Maisch said that by lunchtime Tuesday, all parties involved will know when the earliest possible date will be that Wallick might again be free.
— Reach John Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnJoyceYD.