York homicide eyewitness: No words, just shooting

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The co-defendant of accused killer Vernon Cox Jr. testified there were no words exchanged between Cox and homicide victim Ryan Small before Cox shot Small.

Small, 22, of York City, was fatally shot inside his car the night of Jan. 15, 2017, after being lured to an area near the corner of West Princess and South Hartley streets, according to York City Police.

Vernon Cox Jr.

"(Cox) opened the (front passenger) door and then just started shooting ... as soon as he opened the door," Leon White III told jurors on Wednesday, March 7. "There was no conversation, no words."

White, who police said is also known as Ratiki Drakeford, said he was standing about 3 feet from Cox, who is known as "Vito," when gunfire erupted.

"I actually didn't know who was shooting at first," White testified.

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.

White, 28, of York City, also remains locked up on the same offenses. He acknowledged that he's hoping for consideration on his own criminal charges in exchange for his testimony, but he said prosecutors haven't offered him any deal.

Set up drug deal: First assistant district attorney Jennifer Russell called White to the witness stand Wednesday morning and asked him to recount what happened.

White — wearing handcuffs, leg shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit — said he received a call from Cox asking whether White had any marijuana. The two men had worked together at a diner and also knew each other from around, according to White.

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.

White testified he told Cox he didn't have any weed but that he knew where to get some. He said he then texted Small and indicated he was looking for a quarter-ounce of pot.

White told jurors he walked to a home in the 100 block of South Hartley Street, where Cox was staying, and the two men started walking to meet Small.

As they waited for Small to arrive, Cox said he had $70 for the quarter-ounce, to which White responded that Small would want $80, according to White's testimony.

White testified that Cox replied, "Well, if he doesn't give it to me for $70, I'm going to take it."

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Jennifer Smith, White admitted the pot wasn't going to cost that much and that he was tacking on a middleman-type fee for his trouble.

White testified that after Small pulled up to them, Cox said he wanted to make the deal, then went around to the front passenger door of Small's maroon Buick Century, opened it and started firing without saying a word.

One 'last shot': After Cox started shooting, Small drove off, according to White, at which point Cox "took a last shot" at the car and took off running toward it. Jurors later saw photographs of a bullet hole in the rear bumper of Small's car.

Leon White III

White said he saw Small's car crash into another vehicle, then saw Cox running off.

Small got out of his car and tried to run for help but collapsed because he was mortally wounded. Neighbor Amy Rodrick testified Wednesday that her niece tried to stop Small's bleeding, and both stayed with him until police arrived.

The next day, Cox told White "to just keep my mouth shut," according to White.

On cross-examination, Smith picked apart inconsistencies in White's testimony — and also got him to admit that he repeatedly lied to police and regularly lied to his girlfriend.

White admitted he told his girlfriend that he was the one who shot Small, but he said he did that to manipulate her into letting him move back in.

White said he gave his girlfriend the clothing he wore that night and instructed her to get rid of it. He also admitted to changing his cellphone number after the homicide, testifying that's because he didn't want to get "caught up in a murder case."

White told jurors he initially denied to police that he was present at the scene of the homicide.

"So this case basically comes down to your word against Vernon's?" Smith asked. White responded, "Yes."

More:Mayor: One injured in York City shooting after confrontation at judicial center

Jailhouse confession? Also testifying Wednesday was Roshon Preston, who said he spent more than four months sharing a York County Prison cell with Cox.

Like White, Preston said he's hoping for consideration on his criminal charges in exchange for his testimony, "but nothing (has) been promised."

After about four to six weeks of being "cellies," Cox started talking about the homicide "almost every night," according to Preston — "just trying to get it off his chest."

Cox was angry that White implicated him in the slaying and later said he and White had agreed to rob the drug dealer that White summoned to the area, according to Preston.

Accidental? Preston testified Cox told him he shot Small twice when it looked like Small was "reaching" for something and also confessed to stealing a small amount of marijuana from Small after the shooting.

According to Preston, Cox also said he didn't initially know who Small was, but he later realized Small was the cousin of Cox's pregnant girlfriend. Preston told jurors Cox expressed concern that his girlfriend would learn he was the one who killed her cousin.

"He said the gun accidentally went off," Preston testified.

Preston also testified that Cox said he wouldn't take a lie-detector test "because there was one question he couldn't pass." That was the night before Cox allegedly confessed to Preston, according to testimony.

Trial is set to resume Thursday morning, at which time jurors are expected to finish watching Cox's taped interview with York City detectives. They have about 30 minutes left to watch of the 76-minute tape.

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.

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