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A Hanover man is expected to spend more than a decade in prison after pleading guilty to shooting up his friend Aaron Lawrence with heroin then allowing the young man to die before calling for help.

Justin Wentz, 30, appeared in York County Court on Wednesday, May 1, and pleaded guilty to the first-degree felony of drug delivery resulting in death.

He was sentenced to eight to 16 years in state prison, but as part of his negotiated plea agreement, that prison time won't start for about 3½ years, according to chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker.

That's because Wentz agreed his punishment for Lawrence's death wouldn't begin until after he finishes serving three unrelated prison sentences for Adams County criminal cases, Barker said.

Barker told presiding York County Common Pleas Judge Gregory M. Snyder that means Wentz will be locked up for about 11½ years before he serves his minimum sentence for Lawrence's death. He could serve much longer than that before he's released.

While pleading guilty, Wentz told the judge that he drove to Baltimore and bought heroin then returned to his Hanover home and provided the drugs to Lawrence and Jennifer Busbey.

Wentz said he injected Lawrence with heroin.

"He experienced an overdose, and I didn't provide him medical attention," Wentz told the judge. "I made Miss Busbey leave and told her I'd handle the situation."

Stopped breathing: Lawrence started snoring, then eventually stopped breathing, the defendant said in court.

Wentz has been willing for some time to plead guilty and accept responsibility for Lawrence's death, Barker said in court.

Lawrence's mother, Tracy Miller, told Judge Snyder she and her surviving sons support the negotiated plea agreement.

In court, she read aloud something she wrote in the days after her son died, recalling that he came home on July 19, 2010, and ate three chili dogs and a pile of french fries before leaving after dinner.

About sunrise the next morning, she answered a knock at her home.

"I opened the door and my nightmare began," she read, explaining she couldn't believe Lawrence was dead. He'd been doing so well, she said, and was about to start a new job.

Miller talked about the grief that overwhelmed her and other family members and her frustration at being the person in the family who fixes things but who in the case could fix nothing.

"How could I comfort my other sons when I couldn't comfort myself?" she asked. She said that at her son's funeral services, someone said, "It's over now."

"And I asked, 'For who?'" Miller recalled.

Living memory: Outside the courtroom, Miller told The York Dispatch it will never be over for her family.

"Not until we see him again," she said. Until then, she and her family talk about Lawrence, share stories and photos and celebrate his birthday every year. These acts of remembrance keep him alive in their family, she said.

"What gets to me the most is ... Aaron would've given his nieces the world," Miller said. "But he never got that chance."

Defense attorney Chris Ferro said Wentz and Lawrence were friends, adding that Wentz many years ago acknowledged his responsibility for his friend's death.

Ferro called Lawrence's death "an immeasurable tragedy" and said the plea agreement was fair — especially because Wentz's co-defendant was convicted of third-degree murder.

Busbey, formerly of Gettysburg but more recently of Franklin County, was convicted in May 2018 for her role in Lawrence's death and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison. She turns 28 this week.

In addition to third-degree murder, jurors found her guilty of drug delivery resulting in death, heroin possession with intent to deliver and conspiracy to commit all three offenses.

The background: Hanover Police were called to Wentz's home in the 800 block of Broadway about 4:45 a.m. July 20, 2010, by Wentz, who reported that Lawrence was not breathing, court documents state.

Wentz told 911 dispatchers he did not know what happened to Lawrence, police said.

While on the scene, officers found Busbey's purse, which had two baggies inside that tested positive for heroin and cocaine residue, police said.

More: Prison for Hanover-area heroin dealer who provided fatal dose

More: Judge hands down maximum sentence to 'predatory' heroin dealer

"Suspiciously absent from the room was any means to prepare heroin for ingestion into the human body or any devices used to ingest the substance into the human body," Sgt. Jason Byers wrote in charging documents.

Police said Wentz called and texted different people that night, leading up to his 911 call early that morning. He even called Lawrence six times between 12:30 a.m. and 1:55 a.m., despite the fact that the two were in the same house, police said.

A witness told police Busbey and Wentz gathered all the drugs and paraphernalia and hid all of it in a shed behind Busbey's mother's home before returning and finding Lawrence dead, documents state.

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

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct a statement made in court by the defendant.

 

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