York City teen gets 15-30 years for murder of innocent bystander

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Leandro Pilier

A York City youth who was 16 years old when he murdered an innocent bystander outside a corner store will spend years in state prison.

Now 17, Leandro Pilier was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison by presiding Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder, who gave Pilier credit for the 490 days he has already spent in York County Prison.

"There's no explanation that can give this family any solace," Snyder said as he handed down the punishment.

Chief deputy prosecutor Seth Bortner asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence, which would have been 20 to 40 years in prison.

Defense attorney Michael Marinaro argued for a shorter sentence, perhaps as low as five to 10 years.

Marinaro blamed the fatal — and mistaken — shooting homicide of Elizabeth Vega-Tirado on his client's "youth and immaturity," telling the judge that it was impulsive.

Marinaro argued that Pilier can be rehabilitated, despite behavioral problems in York County Prison.

"He does know right from wrong," the attorney said, and disagreed with a pre-sentence report by county probation officers that states Pilier has no remorse for his crime.

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Is remorse real? Pilier, of South Belvidere Avenue, spoke briefly in court, apologizing and referencing the lead investigator in the case, York City Police Detective Paul DeHart.

"I know Detective DeHart thinks I don't care about this case," he said. "That's not right. I really care."

A makeshift memorial for Elizabeth Grisel Vega-Tirado bears a photo at the corner of South Belvidere Avenue and West Princess Street Wednesday, June 28, 2017. She died Tuesday after she was shot outside a store on the street where she lived. Bill Kalina photo

Bortner told the judge that Pilier has had 14 substantiated write-ups in prison since being locked up.

"It's hard to find truth in the remorse he presents to the court," the prosecutor said, and noted that if Pilier were truly sorry, he would have changed his behavior after murdering an innocent woman.

"It was so senseless, the way she was taken," Bortner said. "The family misses her terribly."

A victim-witness coordinator read aloud in court letters written by one of Vega-Tirado's sons and by her mother.

Family 'destroyed': Geraldy Vega, the oldest of Vega-Tirado's four sons, called his mother's death a tragedy.

He wrote that Pilier's actions destroyed Vega's family.

"I've been forced to live with the fact that I lost my mother at the age of 26, that her life was taken from her at the age of 48," Vega wrote, adding that his mother was "the only person who was there for me and my brothers."

Vega wrote that his own son needed therapy because of the murder, and that the boy fears he'll lose his parents the same way he lost his grandmother.

Since Vega-Tirado's death, she's had more grandchildren born, Vega wrote — kids who "will never know her love and warmth."

Vega's letter described his mother as a good person who helped others.

"(To) this day I am destroyed on the inside," he wrote. "I suffer (on) the inside but all I can do is learn how to live with it and keep being a good man for my children and myself."

The background: Vega-Tirado lived just a few feet from where she was shot.

York City Police have said she was an innocent bystander who fell victim to street violence.

The shooting happened at the corner of West Princess Street and South Belvidere Avenue about 3:45 p.m. June 27, 2017, as Vega-Tirado was walking out of Bev's Grocery.

Officers found her lying in the street with a gunshot wound to the head, police said.

A makeshift memorial for Elizabeth Grisel Vega-Tirado was created at the corner of South Belvidere Avenue and West Princess Street Wednesday, June 28, 2017. She died Tuesday after she was shot outside a store on the street where she lived. Bill Kalina photo

Surveillance video from Bev's showed Vega-Tirado walking out of the store and trying to cross the street when a southbound vehicle cut her off and turned east on West Princess Street, police have said.

Fired at car: Pilier pulled a handgun and fired at the moving car, Bortner told jurors Sept. 12 during his closing argument at Pilier's trial.

The jury acquitted Pilier of first-degree murder but convicted him of third-degree murder.

Bortner has said that Pilier has made statements indicating he was angry at a man who was inside the moving car, Anu-Malik Johnson.

Trial evidence showed Pilier considered Johnson a "rat," according to Bortner.

Hard-working mom: Vega-Tirado moved to York from New York City about 15 years ago because it was quiet, Nilda Garcia previously told The York Dispatch.

"She had no enemies — none," Garcia said. "She was a very friendly person."

Garcia's nephew was married to Vega-Tirado.

"She was an angel," Garcia said. "You rarely saw her angry or with a mean ... expression. She was always smiling, no matter what."

Vega-Tirado worked third shift at a factory while raising her boys by herself, according to Garcia.

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