More than life in prison for baseball-bat murder of Mount Wolf woman
The man who brutally beat Ahshantianna Ali Johnson to death outside her Mount Wolf home more than three years ago over "chump change" has been ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.
After listening to impact statements from five of his victim's loved ones, Edia "Richie" Lawrence — a Bronx, New York, native who moved to York County as a teen and attended Northeastern High School — was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus a consecutive five to 15 years in prison.
The 21-year-old displayed indifference throughout Tuesday's hearing before presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness. Jurors determined Lawrence and others donned masks, committed a home-invasion robbery at Johnson's home, then beat her to death in her yard because she had failed to turn over drug money to Lawrence.
When the judge asked the defense whether Lawrence wanted to speak in court, the murderer asked, "The victim-impact statements — do I have to listen to that?"
Ness said Lawrence did.
Five of "Shanti" Johnson's loved ones spoke in court as Lawrence repeatedly twirled a strand of his hair, tapped his fingers on the defense table and stared at the ceiling.
'Chump change': Johnson's mother, Noemi Capo, said Lawrence has shown no remorse for fatally beating her daughter "over chump change."
Capo asked the judge to impose the longest sentence possible and told Lawrence, "now you will pay for your actions."
"I leave here today with a hole in my heart that can't be filled," she said.
Capo's sister, Debbie Capo Martinez, spoke of her bedside vigil in Johnson's hospital room, and of seeing her niece "all bruised and broken."
"How can someone be so cruel?" she asked, then turned to Lawrence: "I can only assume she pulled off your cowardly mask and confronted you face to face."
Martinez said her niece's death terrified her children, caused her many sleepless nights and "left a distinct mark on all our hearts."
Johnson was smart and beautiful, silly and playful, and loved fashion and cosmetology, her aunt said. She is unable to realize her dreams "but we rise to carry her torch," Martinez said, noting her family is strong and has "a legacy of love and resilience."
A statistic: Johnson's sister, Aakilah Johnson, told Lawrence that "after today, you become a statistic."
Given another opportunity to speak in court, Lawrence took it, despite defense attorney Paul Hirsch shaking his head no.
"Like, it's not over. There's an appeals system," Lawrence said. "I'll be back. That's all."
Senior deputy prosecutor David Maisch said he believes Lawrence's conviction will be upheld on appeal, and that the man's guilt was overwhelming.
"He still to this day does not want to accept responsibility for his actions," the prosecutor said.
The background: Jurors on March 13 of this year found Lawrence guilty of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, burglary, theft, receiving stolen property, simple assault, making terroristic threats and criminal conspiracy to commit robbery for the March 25, 2017, slaying of 19-year-old Johnson.
Maisch has 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, her mother 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."
According to trial testimony, three masked men entered the Second Street home in Mount Wolf that Johnson shared with her mother about 2:15 a.m. March 25, 2017, stole property inside and beat the family dog with a baseball bat.
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 outside her home.
No one else has been charged with Johnson's murder.
Lawrence remains charged in York County in an unrelated case in which police allege a drug deal gone bad caused Lawrence to point a gun at the mother of the man involved and threaten to shoot her other children.
— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.