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Alleged Regal Cinemas killer asks York judge not to let DA seek death penalty

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Attorneys for Anu-Malik Johnson, who is accused of murdering a man inside a theater at Regal Cinemas in West Manchester Township, have asked a York County judge to take the death penalty off the table in their client's case.

West Manchester Township Police said he fatally shot Andre White Jr. on Dec. 2 and that animosity existed between the two men.

Johnson, 21, of no fixed address, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first- and third-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, being a felon in illegal possession of a firearm and five counts of reckless endangerment.

On Thursday, attorney Jon White — who is jointly representing Johnson with attorney Korey Leslie — asked presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock not to allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty, should Johnson be convicted of first-degree murder.

Trebilcock is reviewing arguments from both sides and has reserved judgment, according to court records.

Jon White argued in his written motion that because of COVID-19 restrictions, "prisons have limited their contacts and ability with which attorneys can safely and adequately have contact with their client."

Anu-Malik Lee Johnson

Sixth Amendment: "These limitations on Mr. Johnson's right to counsel — over a period of months and with no light at the end of the tunnel — lead to only one conclusion: that he has been constructively denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel in violation of (federal law)," the motion argues, going on to say Johnson has suffered from a "complete denial of counsel."

Prosecutors Chuck Murphy and Melanie Wiesman, in their motion asking the judge to deny the defense's request, argue that Johnson has been represented by counsel at his hearings and that the defense has been filing motions on his behalf.

"Defendant fails to explain or specify how he has been denied contact with counsel during the COVID-19 pandemic," prosecutors wrote. "(He) also fails to specify any steps taken or attempts made by his attorney to have contact during the COVID-19 pandemic that were unsuccessful due to prison restrictions."

The defense also argued Johnson shouldn't face a possible death penalty because prosecutors have cited just one aggravating circumstance that would allow them to make it a capital case.

'Grave risk of death': The cited circumstance is that Johnson allegedly created a grave risk of death to someone in addition to victim Andre White.

Homicide victim Andre White Jr.

Pennsylvania has a specific list of aggravating circumstances that prosecutors can cite to seek the death penalty. Defense attorney Jon White said he doesn't believe the sole aggravating factor cited by the DA's office is sufficient to move forward with a capital case.

According to the defense motion, "Mr. Johnson contends that ... the shots that were fired at the decedent, Mr. White, (were) directed solely at him and did not present imminent danger of death to others."

Two stray bullets from Johnson's gun struck surviving victim Luisa Torres, 22 at the time, police allege. One bullet grazed her right cheek, and the other struck her in the shoulder.

She was merely a bystander, police have said, and one of eight people in the theater when gunfire erupted.

Prosecutors argue she was clearly in jeopardy of suffering real harm, "since she was actually shot twice."

The background: Johnson went to the Regal Cinemas on Dec. 2 with acquaintance Jalen Bellaflores, who testified against Johnson at the alleged killer's preliminary hearing.

Bellaflores 19, of York, is charged with hindering Johnson's apprehension, obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to obstruct justice, but his original homicide charge was withdrawn.

He has admitted that after the shooting, he drove Johnson from the scene.

At least one person was transported to the hospital after a reported shooting inside Regal Cinema 13 in the West Manchester Town Center, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. West Manchester Township Police are investigating the incident.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Andre White Jr., 22, of Carlisle, suffered five gunshot wounds in Theater 6 about 10:15 p.m., West Manchester Township Detective Sgt. Sean Conway has said.

Investigators recovered a total of nine spent shell casings at the scene — all .40 caliber, according to Conway.

According to Bellaflores' preliminary-hearing testimony, Johnson and Andre White saw each other and said "what's up" in a "confrontational" manner, which Bellaflores said caused him to walk out of the theater.

He testified he heard gunshots after leaving Theater 6, and that afterward Johnson ran up to him and urged him to go. They left together, according to Bellaflores.

Members of the U.S. Marshals Service's fugitive task force captured Johnson in New Jersey on Dec. 18.

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

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