Trial starts Tuesday for man accused of fatally beating Mount Wolf woman over drug money
A jury was seated at 4:30 p.m. Monday in York County Court to preside over the trial of a Bronx man accused of murdering Ahshantianna Johnson outside her Mount Wolf home in 2017.
Edia Antonio Lawrence, who goes by "Richie," remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit that offense, second-degree murder, robbery, burglary, making terroristic threats, theft, simple assault and receiving stolen property.
At one point, he had faced the death penalty, but prosecutors in July withdrew the intention to seek death for Lawrence if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
In Pennsylvania, the only other punishment possible for adults convicted of the offense is life in prison without parole.
Now 21, Lawrence was 18 at the time of the crime and was living with a Mount Wolf-area family member and attending Northeastern High School.
His alleged accomplices in the homicide remain at large, prosecutors have said.
Presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness is expected to swear in the jurors on Tuesday morning and give them some basic legal instruction before opening statements are given.
The background: Three armed, masked men — one of which was allegedly Lawrence — fatally beat the 19-year-old Johnson in the yard of her Second Street home because Lawrence believed she'd stolen his drug money and vowed to "take care of it," according to court documents.
About 2:15 a.m. March 25, 2017, the trio barged into the home Johnson shared with her mother, Noemi Capo, and started stealing property, documents state.
One of the men threatened Capo with a metal baseball bat and a knife, demanding she call her daughter and have her come home, police said.
Capo eventually reached Johnson by phone and told her she needed to come home because there was a family emergency, documents state.
While awaiting Johnson's return, Lawrence instructed one of his accomplices to move Lawrence's car — a 2011 BMW 328x1 — from where it was parked behind the home, explaining that Johnson would recognize his car, court documents allege.
He also allegedly instructed one of the accomplices to get duct tape from his car, documents state. While threatening Capo, Lawrence spoke about killing her sons, court documents allege.
'Beady' eyes: Capo later told investigators she recognized "Richie's" voice and "beady eyes," documents state.
Capo, who didn't know Lawrence's real name, told investigators that Johnson had been dating "Richie," whom she knew from Northeastern High School, police said.
Capo escaped from the trio while they were distracted, ran to a neighbor's house and called 911, police said.
That's the same time Johnson returned home and was fatally attacked in her yard, according to police.
Witnesses told Northeastern Regional Police investigators that Lawrence was selling drugs to other drug dealers and that Johnson had collected money from at least two of those dealers on Lawrence's behalf, documents allege.
'Took care' of it? But Lawrence believed Johnson was skimming money from him and told a witness "he would take care of it," according to court documents.
After the attack, Lawrence told the same witness he "took care of" the problem, police allege.
Johnson and Lawrence had broken up a few months before she was killed, but she apparently was still working for him, Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo has said.
Whether Johnson was stealing from Lawrence or not doesn't make her death less of a tragedy, according to the chief.
"She was just trying to make her way through the world," Rizzo has said. "Unfortunately, she got hooked up with the wrong person ... and paid for it with her life. It's a tragedy to have such a young life full of promise get mixed up with the wrong crowd."
Captured in NYC: Lawrence was arrested in New York City on a warrant filed by Northern York County Regional Police, who allege he tried to shoot a man when a drug deal went bad.
At the time of Johnson's slaying, Lawrence, of Torrey Avenue in the Bronx, was living on Matthews Drive in Conewago Township with his aunt, police said.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.