Prosecutor: York man killed Ryan Small 'over a little bit of weed'

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Vernon Cox fatally shot the cousin of his pregnant girlfriend "over a little bit of weed" and the fear that his girlfriend would learn that Cox had tried to rob one of her family members, a prosecutor told jurors.

During her opening statement Monday, March 5, senior deputy prosecutor Renee Franchi said Ryan Small was shot twice at point-blank range inside a vehicle during a botched robbery.

Vernon Cox Jr.

Small, 22, of York City, was gunned down Jan. 15, 2017, near the corner of West Princess and South Hartley streets after being lured there to sell drugs, York City Police have said.

Franchi told jurors that Cox's co-defendant, Leon White III, acted as a middleman and set up the marijuana deal with Small on Cox's behalf.

Neither White nor Small knew that Cox had a different plan, according to Franchi, who said that plan was to rob whichever weed dealer White had reached out to.

Leaned into car: When the trio met up on South Hartley Street, Cox leaned into Small's car from the passenger side, and that's when he realized he was about to rob his girlfriend Layla's cousin, the prosecutor said. Franchi did not give Layla's last name.

"He couldn't have Ryan Small running back to Layla and saying, 'The father of your unborn child just tried to rob me,'" she told jurors.

So Cox shot Small twice — in the stomach and torso — while leaning inside the car, according to Franchi. As Small tried to drive off, Cox fired a third 9 mm round in the back of Small's car, she said.

The mortally wounded Small crashed into another vehicle, then got out of his car and tried to run, the prosecutor told jurors.

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.

"He only makes it to the sidewalk," Franchi said, at which point Small collapsed.

Franchi said city detectives found and seized the 9 mm handgun Cox used to kill Small, and it was still loaded with "very distinctive" orange-tipped bullets.

The bullets taken from Small's body and from his car also were orange-tipped bullets, and a ballistics expert determined they came from the gun police seized from Cox, the prosecutor said.

Gunshot residue: Also, she said, gunshot residue was found all over the clothing Cox wore that night.

Franchi told jurors they also will hear from a man to whom Cox allegedly confessed.

But defense attorney Jennifer Smith, during her opening statement, argued to jurors that the man who will testify to the alleged confession was Cox's prison cellmate.

Smith noted that man had access to all of Cox's court paperwork when Cox wasn't in their shared cell.

She urged jurors to keep an open mind, and suggested it was White who fired the fatal shots — not her client.

Leon White III

Both White and the jailhouse informant are testifying in the hope of receiving consideration in their own criminal cases, Smith told the jury.

Anti-violence target: 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, 2017, call-in meeting.

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.

More:Initiative lays down law on gun violence, offers 2nd chance

Cox, 30, of York City, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first- and third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit second-degree murder and being a previously convicted felon in illegal possession of a firearm. Police said he also goes by the name "Vito."

White, 28, of York City, also remains locked up, charged with the same offenses. Police said he also is known by the name Ratiki Drakeford.

Cox's trial will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 7, presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock said.

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