York man gets prison for his part in ambush murder of pot dealer

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York City man must spend at least eight years in state prison for his role in the 2017 murder of a young man over a small amount of marijuana.

Leon White III, 29, appeared in York County Court on Monday, July 30. He pleaded no contest to third-degree murder and guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery.

As part of his negotiated plea agreement, White was sentenced to eight to 16 years in state prison, plus five years' probation.

Leon White III

He also was ordered to pay about $5,000 in restitution, the bulk of it to murder victim Ryan Small's mother and to Penn National Insurance Co.

White, also known as Ratiki Drakeford, testified against the man who actually shot Small — Vernon "Vito" Cox Jr. — at Cox's trial in March.

Defense attorney Rick Robinson said that while White was hoping for consideration on his own charges, he also wanted to cooperate with the prosecution because he was upset about Small being gunned down.

Remorseful: "He's been remorseful from day one," Robinson said. "He even wanted to write letters to (Small's) family" but was advised not to do that until after his case was resolved.

White has maintained that while he knew Cox planned to rob Small, he didn't know Cox would fatally shoot him.

First assistant district attorney Jen Russell said White's plea agreement wasn't negotiated until last week, and that there was no agreement in place when White took the stand against his co-defendant.

Ryan Small

Robinson asked presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock to specifically ask the state Department of Corrections not to house White in the same facility as Cox.

"That would seem to be wise under the circumstances of the case," Trebilcock said.

Small, 22, of York City, was gunned down on Jan. 15, 2017, during an ambush, which he was trying to flee from, according to trial testimony.

Cox, 30, also of York City, was sentenced in April to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in March.

Small's mother, Andrea Conn, didn't speak in court Monday, but did speak in court at Cox's sentencing.

She talked about the pain her son's death has caused her family.

"He has three kids he's not going to see grow up," Conn said at the time. "It hurts me to know my son lost his life over a little bit of weed. ... I just wish things would have been different that day for everyone."

More:Life in prison for man who murdered York City weed dealer

More:York homicide eyewitness: No words, just shooting

The background: Russell told jurors during trial that to Small, Jan. 15, 2017, started out as "just a regular day — a routine situation."

Vernon Cox Jr.

Small, who sold marijuana, was contacted that night by White, a regular customer, to meet him near the corner of West Princess and South Hartley streets so White could buy a quarter-ounce of pot.

"Unbeknownst to Ryan Small, Leon White and the defendant, Vernon Cox, had ... a more sinister plan," Russell has said — to lure Small to an area where the two men could rob him.

At Cox's trial, White testified that Cox opened the front passenger door of Small's car and "just started shooting."

Small drove off, with Cox firing a last shot "for good measure" at the fleeing car, Russell has said. Small crashed head-on into another vehicle, jumped out and tried to run but collapsed on the sidewalk and died from two gunshot wounds to the torso.

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