Parole granted in Children's Home of York murder
One of four people who murdered a youth counselor inside the Children's Home of York three decades ago has been granted parole.
Michael A. Lehman, 44, is scheduled to be paroled on or after June 19, assuming he commits no misconduct at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview between now and his release date, according to Lehman's written notice from the state Board of Probation and Parole.
He was 14 years old when he wielded a knife and stood guard as accomplices Cornell Mitchell, Dwayne Morningwake and Miguel Yoder crept into counselor Kwame Beatty's bedroom in the North York group home and repeatedly stabbed him in the chest, stomach, shoulder, back and thigh on June 20, 1988.
After the murder, the foursome stole Beatty's wallet, cash and car and drove to Harrisburg, later returning to York by bus.
Lehman, a resident of the home, was angry at Beatty because the counselor had imposed discipline on the teen.
Accepted responsibility: The parole board's notice to Lehman lists some of the factors that went into its decision to grant parole including that fact that he participated in and completed "prescribed institutional programs," has positive behavior, has "demonstrated motivation for success," has accepted responsibility for his crime and has stated remorse.
The state Department of Corrections recommended parole for Lehman, according to the notice.
As part of his parole, Lehman must keep a job or be actively looking for one, submit to random drug and alcohol tests, have no contact with his victim's family and pay a monthly parole-supervision fee to the state, according to the notice.
He will not be released until state officials approve Lehman's parole-release plan, the notice states.
The background: Lehman and Morningwake, who was 16 at the time of the slaying, were tried as adults, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Mitchell was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, but he died in prison of AIDS-related complications in 1991. He was 25 when Beatty was murdered and testified he met the three group-home residents after they ran away and he recruited them to sell crack cocaine for him.
Yoder, who was 17 at the time, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, robbery and other charges and was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
Supreme Court ruling: The punishments of Lehman and Morningwake were called into question in 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to automatically sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole.
A life sentence can still be handed down to a juvenile, SCOTUS ruled, but it cannot be an automatic sentence.
In Pennsylvania, people convicted of first- and second-degree murder received automatic life sentences without the possibility of parole no matter their age.
So juveniles automatically sentenced to life in prison before the SCOTUS ruling, including Lehman and Morningwake, are entitled to resentencing hearings.
There are 518 such "juvenile lifers" across Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Corrections; so far, 210 have been sentenced and 105 have been released. There are about a dozen juvenile lifers from York County.
New sentence: During Lehman's resentencing hearing on April 4, defense attorney Gerald Lord argued that Lehman should be released immediately.
But chief deputy prosecutor David Maisch urged presiding Common Pleas Judge Michael E. Bortner to impose a sentence of 45 years to life.
Bortner resentenced Lehman to 30 years to life in state prison and said that way the state parole board will be tasked with determining when Lehman should be released. The judge noted the parole board has expertise in making such decisions.
"Parole is not a gift," the judge told Lehman at the time. "It's something you're going to have to earn."
No 2nd chance for Beatty: Bortner said Beatty should not have suffered the fate he did and noted that unlike Lehman's murder sentence, there's no do-over for Beatty.
"He doesn't get a second chance," the judge said.
The judge noted that higher courts have determined children often lack maturity, can be reckless and impulsive and are susceptible to negative influences, and that those factors must be considered when sentencing juvenile criminals.
Still, Bortner said, Lehman's level of sophistication at the time of the murder was likely more advanced than that of his peers.
"He was only 14 years old, but he certainly knew his way around the track," the judge said.
Bortner also noted that Lehman "had a pretty tough childhood" that included being raped, abused and abandoned. Before the murder, Lehman had no criminal record, the judge said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.