Closing arguments in Slippery Rock student slaying trial

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As Devele Reid got out of the car to go rob a Slippery Rock student last year, the man driving, Brandon Lind, specifically told Mr. Reid, "For God's sake, don't kill him."

The warning went unheeded, and Mr. Reid told police there was a scuffle, and he did, indeed, shoot Jordan Coyner in the head, killing the 20-year-old.

Both men, and another, Jon Lee, are on trial this week for robbery and criminal homicide.

Jon Lee's case is being decided by a jury, which began deliberating late Wednesday.

Mr. Reid and Mr. Lind chose to have their charges decided by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Philip A. Ignelzi.

According to the prosecution, those three, along with two others, went to Coyner's parents' home in Kennedy on June 18, 2012, to rob him. Assistant District Attorney Michael Berquist said that it was Jon Lee's idea to commit a robbery and that Mr. Lind targeted Coyner because he sold marijuana.

During his closing argument Wednesday, Mr. Lind's defense attorney, Patrick Thomassey, told the judge that his client was not complicit in the homicide, and cited from the jury instruction: "A partner's act that kills is not in furtherance of the felony if the partner does the act for his own personal reasons which are independent of the felony."

Then, he continued, the felony murder rule -- that a person is guilty of second-degree murder if a person is killed during the commission of an underlying felony -- is unfair.

Under Pennsylvania law, second-degree murder carries a mandatory penalty of life without parole.

But both Mr. Lind, who was 17 when the crime occurred, and Jon Lee, who was 16, would not face the mandatory sentence because they were juveniles at the time of Coyner's death.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama made such penalties for juveniles unconstitutional. Life is still an option, in those cases, but only after the court holds a full sentencing hearing.

In Pennsylvania, with recent changes in the law, both Jon Lee and Mr. Lind would have to serve at least a minimum of 35 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

Throughout his closing, Mr. Thomassey repeated the phrase, "Does the punishment fit the crime?"

But Mr. Berquist argued that both Mr. Lind and Jon Lee played significant roles in the acts that led up to Coyner's death.

"Mr. Lind knew what was going down that day," Mr. Berquist said.

He selected Coyner as the victim and drove to Homewood for Mr. Reid to get a gun, and then drove to Coyner's home to carry out the robbery, the prosecutor said.

As for Jon Lee, "he's just as liable as all the other people in that car."

"Everything that led up to the point where Devele Reid pulled that trigger, Jon Lee was a part of," Mr. Berquist said. "He's the connection between Devele Reid and Brandon Lind."

The prosecutor said that Jon Lee hid the gun in the trunk of the car, and then served as a lookout outside Coyner's house as the robbery occurred.

But Jon Lee's defense attorney, Aaron Sontz, said there was no evidence in the case that his client wanted to commit a robbery, and that simply being present does not make him an accomplice.

"You must specifically intend it to happen," he said.

His client did not have a weapon, Mr. Sontz said, and there was no proof of an agreement between Jon Lee and the others.

He said Coyner died because of Mr. Reid.

The prosecutor agreed that Mr. Reid fired the gun that killed Coyner. And he also agreed with Mr. Reid's defense attorney, Richard Narvin, that the killing was not premeditated.

"I agree this was not an intentional killing," he said.

He believes that Mr. Reid, who pulled the trigger, did it only after a scuffle began with Coyner during the robbery.

But, he continued, it was also "the natural and probable outcome to robbery when a firearm is involved."

Judge Ignelzi said he would render his verdict in the nonjury trials, put it in an envelope and wait to reveal it after the jury returns its verdict on Jon Lee.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


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