Woodland Hills athlete gets break in armed robbery case

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The Woodland Hills senior starting quarterback, who is being recruited as a safety, has been offered scholarships from West Virginia, Temple and Georgia Tech.

But before Harry Randall, 18, makes a decision about what college he might attend, he first has some other issues to get out of the way — like whether he gets locked up for an armed robbery he’s accused of from earlier this year.

On Friday, Mr. Randall scored at least a partial victory when Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani decided that his criminal case should be heard in juvenile court — where any supervision of him must end when he’s 21.

“This is the last chance you’re ever going to have to keep yourself from going to prison for 5 to 10,” Judge Mariani said.

In making his ruling, the judge said he weighed the two sides’ arguments, and that “the scales tip ever so slightly” in Mr. Randall’s favor, particularly because of his “starting point in life.”

The head coach of the Woodland Hills High School football team, George Novak, testified that the young man had a tough time growing up.

Over the last few years, Mr. Randall has been arrested for threatening his high school assistant principal and for stealing a car.

He was on probation through the juvenile court at the time of the March 6 armed robbery.

According to Swissvale police, Mr. Randall and another man, E.W. Richardson, ordered two pizzas to be delivered to Collingwood Avenue about 8 p.m. that day. The call was placed from a cell phone belonging to Mr. Randall’s mother.

When the delivery driver arrived, he was robbed at gunpoint. One of the assailants had a shotgun, the other what appeared to be a silver handgun, although it later was determined to be a pellet gun. The driver was robbed of $180, his wallet, the pizza delivery bag and a sausage and a pepperoni pizza.

The two assailants also attempted to steal the man’s car, but could not when they realized the keys were missing, the criminal complaint said. Instead they fled on foot.

Later that night, police were able to trace the pizza order back to the phone used by Mr. Randall, according to the complaint, and they recovered the driver’s wallet, pizza bag and pepperoni pizza in Mr. Randall’s bedroom. The shotgun believed to have been used in the incident was found under a couch in the home.

During the decertification hearing Friday, Mr. Randall’s defense attorney, Kaitlin Euler, presented evidence that Mr. Randall had a difficult childhood and has been diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder.

“Harry’s had a tough life growing up,” Mr. Novak said.

He said Mr. Randall lives like it’s “survival of the fittest.

“We’re trying to change that feeling and get him to trust people,” Mr. Novak said. “Most of the teachers would say he’s a good student. He doesn’t act up.”

He said Mr. Randall has a 2.5 GPA and has been offered full scholarships by several schools.

The 6-foot tall, 185-pound senior is categorized as a two-star recruit on Scout.com, and is ranked at No. 170.

Mr. Randall helped to lead the Woodland Hills Wolverines to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game at Heinz Field last month, but they lost 27-7 to Central Catholic, which will play in the state championship in Hershey on Sunday.

Mr. Novak said Mr. Randall only got in trouble outside of football season — when he was not under a rigorous schedule — and was hanging around with the wrong kind of kids.

“When he’s with the team, when he’s in school, when his time is taken up, he doesn’t get in trouble,” the coach said.

Trouble started, Mr. Novak said, during Mr. Randall’s junior year when he sustained a knee injury and had to undergo two surgeries.

But the prosecution presented evidence that Mr. Randall has been in juvenile court twice before, and at the time of the armed robbery was under a consent decree for having stolen a Jeep from Planet Fitness after removing a man’s keys from his locker at the gym.

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Byrnes said that Mr. Randall, who was 17 years 10 months old at the time of the armed robbery, has failed to take advantage of the opportunities given him through the juvenile court system.

Instead, she continued, his criminal activities are escalating.

“I don’t believe he’s shown this court he’s willing and wanting to be rehabilitated,” she said. “He has shown he doesn’t follow the rules.”

Mr. Randall never completed his court-ordered anger management program, and violated curfew in July when he was found around 2 a.m. at a party where there was alcohol, marijuana and a gun.

Mr. Novak told the judge that Mr. Randall was suspended after his arrest for the armed robbery. That lasted, the coach said, from March until mid-August.

The coach said the only reason the suspension ended was because school officials thought the charges against Mr. Randall would have been adjudicated more quickly.

“I didn’t want you to think we don’t punish athletes,” Mr. Novak said.

Ms. Euler argued to the court that she felt that her client could receive the treatment and rehabilitation he needs without being subject to the adult criminal justice system.

More than that, she continued, he was fortunate to have “tangible, college potential in the very near future.”

But, Judge Mariani countered, “Does he get a pass because he’s a good quarterback? Does he get a pass when he points a gun in someone’s face to rob him and sets him up?”

In her argument, Ms. Byrnes told the judge that had the crime occurred just two months later, these questions wouldn’t be asked.

“If we allow Mr. Randall to simply go back to the juvenile court system, I don’t believe that’s shown every football player that comes after him there are consequences,” she said. “‘I can get away with it because I’m a football star.’

“He has opportunity abounding that most people never get, and instead of taking those opportunities, he’s violating curfew, around drugs and alcohol and getting arrested for having a gun,” Ms. Byrnes said.

In questioning Mr. Novak, Judge Mariani asked him how many players he has coached in his 27 years who ended up in the pros.

The coach ticked off eight names, including Mr. Randall’s brother, Rontez Miles, who is on the New York Jets practice squad.

Outside of Mr. Miles, the coach added, “One thing they all had — they all had strong parental support.”

He said that sometimes the players come back to town to mentor his team, and that they have talked with Mr. Randall.

“Harry’s not a perfect guy. I don’t know if he’ll make it — either way — if he gets a chance,” Mr. Novak said.

In making his decision, Judge Mariani said, “I think too many football players get coddled.”

The judge said it was doubtful Mr. Randall would make it to the ranks of professional football — but the potential for a college education was important.

“I don’t really care if you get to the NFL,” Judge Mariani said. “The education side of this is so much more significant to me than the football side.”

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

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