York City murder defendant: 'I didn't shoot nobody, bro'

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Murder co-defendants Vernon "Vito" Cox Jr. and Leon White III each blame the other for the death of Ryan Small.

But one of the York City Police detectives who investigated Small's homicide has told jurors that both men are responsible for the Jan. 15, 2017, fatal shooting near the corner of West Princess and South Hartley streets.

Trial jurors deciding Cox's fate saw White testify against Cox earlier this week, and on Thursday, March 8, they finished watching the 76-minute videotape of Cox's interview with York City detectives.

Vernon Cox Jr.

Just before prosecutors rested their case against Cox on Thursday afternoon, York City Detective Tim Shermeyer said of Cox and White, "They worked in conjunction with each other to commit this homicide."

The prosecution maintains the two men lured Small to the area by telling him they wanted to buy a quarter-ounce of marijuana. But when Small drove up, he was shot twice and mortally wounded in an apparent botched robbery, according to trial testimony.

Small, 22, of York City, took off in his car but crashed head-on into another driver. Small got out, asked if the other driver was OK, then took off running, according to testimony.

But Small collapsed on the sidewalk and died.

White testified Wednesday that he merely thought he was connecting Cox, who wanted to buy marijuana, with Small, who sold marijuana.

According to White, Cox opened the front passenger door of Small's Buick Century and simply started shooting without saying a word.

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.

'Not adding up': Cox, in his taped police interview, repeatedly denied having anything to do with the slaying.

"It's not adding up, bro," Cox repeatedly told detectives. "Don't put that s— on me, bro. ... I didn't shoot nobody, bro."

Detectives told him they thought it was adding up, especially after their questioning forced Cox to change his story repeatedly. At one point in the interview, detectives told Cox he'd given about six versions of what happened, and that not one of those versions held up to scrutiny.

Eventually, Cox said it was White who killed Small during a robbery attempt, and that White gave Cox the murder weapon to hold. Cox claimed he didn't know the gun had just been used to kill a man.

At one point during the taped interview, the detectives left the room and shut the door. Cox — who was aware he was being recorded — spoke at length and protested his innocence to the empty interview room.

On Thursday, jurors also heard from a state police ballistics expert, who positively linked the gun found with Cox's belongings to the bullets that killed Small. That gun was found  Jan. 18, 2017, during a search of the South Hartley Street home where Cox was living, according to testimony.

Gunshot residue: Also on Thursday, a forensic expert in gunshot residue analysis testified she found gunshot residue on Cox's right sleeve and pants and also on White's right sleeve.

A woman who is acquainted with Cox testified she recognized the murder weapon as being a gun Cox possessed in the summer of 2016. The York Dispatch agreed to withhold the woman's name after York City Police indicated publishing it could put the woman in danger.

She told jurors the gun accidentally fired twice in her home. Once, the gun was in Cox's pocket and the bullet went into the floor, she testified; the other time, the gun was in Cox's pocket and the bullet went into her ceiling.

"Both accidents," she said.

First assistant district attorney Jennifer Russell and senior deputy prosecutor Renee Franchi rested the prosecution's case Thursday afternoon.

Leon White III

Defense attorney Jennifer Smith will begin presenting her case Friday, March 9.

Trial-related shooting: On Wednesday afternoon, Cox's cousin was shot while walking down Clarke Avenue, an alley that runs alongside the York County Judicial Center.

The cousin, 32-year-old Derek Dorsey of Baltimore, suffered a gunshot wound to the leg following a confrontation at the York County Judicial Center, according to York City officials.

Detectives have obtained arrest warrants for the two alleged shooters — Matthew Lynn Hughes Jr., 19, and Shyquel Rashad Folk, 17, both of York City. Folk will be charged as an adult, police said.

Charging documents don't provide an alleged motive for the shooting but do indicate that Hughes and Folk fired on Dorsey at least 16 times.

Dorsey attended Cox's trial Wednesday morning, where presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock interrupted questioning and had the jury sent out of the room briefly.

More:Two accused in York City shooting after courthouse confrontation

Judge's admonition: He admonished both sides of the gallery for their conduct in the courtroom, which he indicated included talking, eye-rolling and shaking or nodding of heads. He ordered onlookers to sit quietly and not “testify” from the gallery, then warned that he would have anyone in violation removed for the duration of the trial.

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, 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.

White is also known as Ratiki Drakeford, according to court documents.

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.