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York City murderer convicted after retrial

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Nearly nine years after one York County jury convicted Kwilson Coleman of first-degree murder for the York City shooting death of Gregory Wright, a second jury has reached the same verdict.

Jurors deliberated about 4½ hours on Wednesday, July 18, before finding the York City man guilty of first- and third-degree murder, according to senior deputy prosecutor Justin Roberts.

Coleman is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 27, according to court records.

Kwilson Coleman

Roberts, who jointly prosecuted Coleman with deputy prosecutor Stephanie Lombardo, noted that the sentencing date is also the 10-year anniversary of Wright's death.

He said a decision has not yet been made as to what sentence the prosecution will request.

Adults convicted of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania are automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole, but juveniles convicted of first-degree murder in adult court can be sentenced to less time.

Roberts said jurors were instructed that if they found Coleman guilty of first-degree murder, they didn't need to deliberate on the third-degree murder charge. The jury returned a guilty verdict on both charges anyway, he said.

No extra time: Coleman will receive no extra time for the third-degree conviction because that offense will merge with first-degree murder for sentencing purposes, the prosecutor confirmed.

Roberts said it's unfortunate that Wright's family had to endure "a bit of an emotional roller coaster ... but I'm pleased we were able to deliver justice to this family and to Gregory Wright."

He acknowledged the amount of time that passed between the murder and Coleman's retrial created some difficulties, specifically with witnesses moving or their memories fading. One prosecution witness traveled about 600 miles to testify, he said.

Defense attorney Rick Robinson said he and his client were disappointed by the jury's verdict.

"We will proceed to sentencing in November in an effort to obtain a fair and just sentence since Mr. Coleman was a juvenile at the time of the offense," Robinson said.

The background: Now 27, Coleman was just 17 when he was arrested for gunning down Wright. Charged as an adult and first convicted in October 2009, Coleman was serving a life sentence.

He appealed his conviction in federal court, asking for a new trial based on issues with eyewitnesses, including whether they were able to identify him in a photo lineup.

On Feb. 1, the York County District Attorney's Office notified U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson that it agreed it was in the interests of justice for Coleman to be granted a new trial, according to Carlson's written report and recommendation.

Carlson called it "a commendable display of candor" and recommended that the conviction be vacated and that Coleman receive a new trial, according to federal court records.

U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo adopted Carlson's recommendations, overturning Coleman's conviction and granting him a retrial, according to the Feb. 26 order.

Had Coleman not been granted a new trial, he would have to be resentenced, since he was a juvenile at the time of the homicide. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that automatically sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional.

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First trial: Coleman was convicted of murdering Wright in the 400 block of Prospect Street on Nov. 27, 2008.

During his first trial, prosecutors said he calmly shot Wright numerous times at close range.

Wright, 20, had pistol-whipped and robbed a buddy of Coleman's, testimony from the first trial revealed.

Most of the robbery victim's friends fled, but Coleman pulled out a gun and began shooting, prosecutors said at the time.

Wright ran away but fell to the ground after bullets shattered his thigh bone and the bones in one of his arms, prosecutors said.

At that point, Wright began crawling away and screaming, but the shooter kept firing, according to trial testimony.

The ninth and final bullet slammed into Wright's back, killing him, prosecutors said.

Coleman has maintained his innocence and refused a plea deal that would have given him a 15-year sentence.

Second shooting: Coleman was already serving his murder sentence when he was sentenced for a second shooting, which happened 10 days before Wright's slaying.

He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for the Nov. 17, 2008, shooting of Theadric Williams outside the Cable House high-rise apartment building and was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.

Williams previously testified that as he was leaving the Cable House, he overheard Coleman say he had a gun. Williams said he warned Coleman to be careful because someone could "snitch" on him.

Coleman followed Williams outside and "was right there in my face, two feet from me," when he shot Williams in the abdomen, Williams testified.

Williams said he ran and was then shot in the back and the arm. He said he was left with limited use of his arm.

Robberies: In 2007, when Coleman was 16, he was charged as an adult with robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery in seven cases by York City Police.

Charges were dropped in four of those cases, but Coleman pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy in one case, and conspiracy in another, court records state. He was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in county prison.

Police said he was part of a violent gang-related robbery crew allegedly responsible for more than a dozen robberies of individuals and businesses.

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