Justice 'a long time coming' for Mount Wolf murder victim, ADA says
Ahshantianna Ali Johnson's grieving loved ones had to wait every bit of three years to see justice done for her, David Maisch said — but they witnessed it Friday morning.
About 9:15 a.m., after deliberating for several hours Thursday afternoon, a York County jury found Edia "Richie" Lawrence guilty of second-degree murder and related offenses for the March 25, 2017, slaying of 19-year-old "Shanti" Johnson in the yard of her Mount Wolf home.
"They were patient," the senior deputy prosecutor said. "It was a long time coming for this family, and they finally got the closure that they wanted."
Maisch said he was pleased too.
"Whether it was first (degree murder) or second, it didn't really matter to me, since the penalty is the same," he said. "The family was happy with it, and that's what was important to me."
Lawrence's family cried quietly as the verdict was read.
"No," one woman uttered after leaving the courtroom. "No, no."
Johnson's family members will have the chance to say their piece in open court at Lawrence's sentencing hearing, scheduled for April 27.
Jurors acquitted Lawrence, 21, of the Bronx, of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit that offense. He was 18 at the time of the crime.
Felony murder: In addition to second-degree murder — which is murder committed during the course of another felony — the jury convicted him of two counts of robbery, one for Johnson and the other for her mother; conspiracy to commit robbery; burglary; simple assault and making terroristic threats.
In Pennsylvania, adults convicted of first- or second-degree murder receive automatic life sentences. Presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness could add consecutive time for the other offenses.
New York City defense attorney Paul Hirsch said Lawrence and his family will decide whether to appeal.
"There's time to have the discussion, and now is not really the time," he said.
'Brutal' beating: Maisch described Johnson's attack as brutal. Testimony indicated she was beaten with a baseball bat.
She suffered blunt-force trauma to her head, hands and arms, as well as multiple fractures, swelling, bruising and hemorrhaging to her face and brain that left her unconscious until her death five days after the attack.
Trial testimony indicated Lawrence was fronting marijuana to dealers — a pound a week for one of them — and then having others collect his cut of the profits. Johnson was one of the women who collected that cash.
She and Lawrence met at Northeastern High School when she was a junior and dated on and off for a couple years, Capo testified.
They had broken up before Johnson's death but she was still making cash pickups for him, Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo has said.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Lawrence believed Johnson kept the last pickup she made, which was about $3,000, instead of delivering it to him. One witness testified Lawrence said he intended to "smack the s—" out of Johnson for "playing" with his money.
'A tragedy': "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."
Lawrence maintains his innocence.
According to trial testimony, three masked men entered the Second Street home in Mount Wolf that Johnson shared with her mother, Noemi Capo, about 2:15 a.m. March 25, 2017, and started stealing both her property and Johnson's property, and also beat her dog with a baseball bat, she said.
Capo told jurors she recognized the ringleader of the trio as Lawrence, and that he ordered her to call Johnson and convince her to come home, which she did. Shortly after making the call but before Johnson arrived, Capo was able to escape and ran for help.
But when officers arrived, it was too late. They found Johnson unconscious and bloody in the backyard of her home.
DNA on mask: Near her was a black face mask that contained Lawrence's DNA, according to the testimony of a DNA expert.
His DNA also was found on duct tape left inside Capo's house by the home-invasion robbers, the expert said.
Lawrence remains in York County Prison without bail, awaiting sentencing. His accomplices remain at large.
Although he is from the Bronx, Lawrence moved to the Mount Wolf area as a teen to live with his aunt and attend high school.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.