The man who, as a juvenile 23 years ago, fatally shot a Lancaster taxi driver in the city will now have a chance for parole – as soon as 2019.
Levar Jones was 14 when he shot Brian Whetts in the back during an October 1994 robbery near the Lancaster Amtrak station.
Jones pleaded guilty in 1995 to second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Jones, now 37, was in Lancaster County Court Tuesday for a re-sentencing hearing due to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed life sentences against juveniles “unconstitutional.”
At the end of a three-hour hearing, Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker sentenced Jones to 25 years to life.
Having already served about 23 years and 2 months, Jones would be eligible for a parole hearing in 2019.
Manuel Ortiz, a co-defendant in the case, is expected to receive a new sentence Tuesday afternoon.
Assistant District Attorney James Reeder argued in court that Jones has shown no empathy for his victim or remorse for his crime, as recently as 2013, as opined by a mental-health official at Jones’ prison. That makes rehabilitation impossible, Reeder argued, at least in the near future.
Jones’ defense team argued that Ortiz manipulated Jones into committing the crime and that Jones has behaved while incarcerated and completed programs.
“Brian Whetts remains dead,” Reeder argued, describing Whetts as a “good and gentle working man.”
Whetts’ relatives described him as the “glue” of the family who was killed because he didn’t have the money Jones and Ortiz demanded during the robbery.
The family said they are “unmoved” by Jones’ apology Tuesday.
“We continue to carry the burden of Brian’s death, 23 years later,” Louise Williams, Brian’s mother, wrote in a statement read to the court.
President Judge Reinaker, while ordering sentence, said he has “no great deal of concern” for the safety of the community upon Jones’ release, based on his behavior since his incarceration and strong family support system.
Jones is the tenth of 12 inmates – previously serving life for killings they committed as juveniles in Lancaster County – to be re-sentenced.
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