Death penalty sought in Mount Wolf woman's homicide
An 18-year old Bronx man who attended Northeastern High School is facing the death penalty for allegedly murdering Ahshantianna Johnson outside her Mount Wolf home.
Edia Antonio Lawrence, who goes by "Richie," was in York County Court Friday morning for his formal court arraignment on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit that offense, second-degree murder, robbery, burglary, theft, simple assault and receiving stolen property.
Chief deputy prosecutor David Maisch said the York County District Attorney's Office is citing two aggravating factors to argue for the death penalty.
First, he said, Johnson was killed during the course of another felony — specifically, robbery. The second is that the slaying occurred as part of a drug-delivery operation, Maisch said.
Lawrence's alleged accomplices in the homicide remain at large, the prosecutor confirmed.
'A little surprised': Philadelphia-based defense attorney Jack McMahon said he intends to defend the case vigorously.
"We were a little surprised they're seeking the death penalty. He's only an 18-year-old young man," he said.
McMahon noted that the only identification of Lawrence being involved is a voice identification.
"I think that's a bit suspect," he said. "We think the defendant did not do this."
McMahon said it's a sad case.
"But just because it's sad doesn't mean he's guilty," the attorney said.
Prosecutors consulted with Johnson's family and Northeastern Regional Police before deciding to seek the death penalty, according to Maisch, who said Johnson's family supports the decision.
Lawrence's first pretrial conference is scheduled for Oct. 16.
The background: Three armed, masked men, allegedly including Lawrence, fatally beat the 19-year-old Johnson at her Second Street home because Lawrence believed she'd stolen his drug money and vowed to "take care of it," according to charging documents.
About 2:15 a.m. March 25, the trio barged into the home Johnson shared with her mother, Noemi Capo, and started stealing property, documents state.
One of the men threatened Capo with a metal baseball bat and a knife, demanding she call her daughter and have her come home, police said.
Capo eventually reached Johnson by phone and told her she needed to come home because there was a family emergency, documents state.
'Beady' eyes: Capo later told investigators she recognized "Richie's" voice and "beady eyes," documents state. Capo, who didn't know Lawrence's real name, told investigators that Johnson had been dating "Richie," whom she knew from Northeastern High School, police said.
Capo escaped from the trio while they were distracted; she ran to a neighbor's house and called 911, police said.
Johnson and Lawrence had broken up a few months before she was killed, but she apparently was still working for him, Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo said.
Whether Johnson was stealing from Lawrence or not doesn't make her death less of a tragedy, according to the chief.
"She was just trying to make her way through the world," Rizzo said. "Unfortunately, she got hooked up with the wrong person ... and paid for it with her life. It's a tragedy to have such a young life full of promise get mixed up with the wrong crowd."
Captured in NYC: Lawrence was arrested in New York City on a warrant filed by Northern York County Regional Police, who allege he tried to shoot a man when a drug deal went bad.
Lawrence, of Torrey Avenue in the Bronx, remains in York County Prison without bail. Police said that for a time he lived on Matthews Drive in Conewago Township with his aunt.
Northeastern Regional Police are asking for the public's help in identifying and arresting the other masked men who were involved in the incident.
Anyone with any information about the case is asked to call them at 717-266-6195, ext. 105. Tipsters can remain anonymous, police said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.