The jury hearing the case against a Penn Hills teen accused of killing a girl and setting her on fire apparently did not buy his testimony.
After less than two hours of deliberation Wednesday, the panel of seven women and five men found Akeem Page-Jones, 18, guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Teesa Williams.
Mr. Page-Jones, 18, will be sentenced by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jill E. Rangos on Aug. 29.
In Pennsylvania, first-degree murder carries with it a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole. However, because Mr. Page-Jones was a juvenile at the time of his crime, he will not be subject to that punishment.
Instead, based on a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court last year, and subsequent changes to Pennsylvania's law, Judge Rangos will have a full sentencing hearing to determine what the young man's penalty will be.
It is believed to be the first such sentencing in Allegheny County. Mr. Page-Jones faces at least a mandatory prison term of 35 years after being found guilty of first-degree murder, arson, recklessly endangering, illegal possession of a firearm and theft.
Williams' body was found inside her burning home in Penn Hills the morning of March 22, 2011.
According to the prosecution, she had been shot under her chin, and her house was set on fire.
Mr. Page-Jones told police initially that he had visited Williams the day before her death and returned the next day.
That morning, he said he had a gun with him, and that Williams was curious about it. He told police he did not want her to touch it, but she reached for it, they struggled, and it accidentally fired.
But on Tuesday, Mr. Page-Jones took the stand and told a different story.
He testified that it was his friend, Joe King, who fired the shot that killed Williams.
The defendant recounted to the jury that he and Mr. King visited Williams that morning, and that Mr. King went with the girl into her bedroom, while Mr. Page-Jones was watching television.
Mr. Page-Jones said that while he watched "The Cosby Show" in the living room, he heard a shot. Mr. King came out of the bedroom, held a gun to the young man's head and demanded that he light the fire.
The defendant told the jury that he didn't tell the police about Mr. King's involvement because the man threatened him and his family.
Mr. King testified for the prosecution earlier in the trial, admitting that he had loaned his gun to Mr. Page-Jones in the days before the shooting. He denied any involvement in Williams' death.
Defense attorney Kevin Abramovitz focused his closing argument on Mr. King, explaining to the jury that his client knew most of the specifics from that morning because he was present in the house.
The one thing he got wrong, the attorney said, was the angle of the gunshot, and that's because Mr. Page-Jones wasn't in the room when the gun went off.
"He saw everything else, and that's how he knew the details."
The gun belonged to Mr. King, Mr. Abramovitz said, and in the days after the shooting, Mr. King had a gaming console that was stolen from Williams' home.
But Mr. King testified that Mr. Page-Jones sold him the PlayStation that same day.
During her closing, Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Walker discounted the defense argument, saying that Mr. King turned over evidence to investigators.
"He didn't hide it," she said.
Without his cooperation, Ms. Walker continued, police would have never recovered the gun used to kill Williams.
After the verdict, Mr. Abramovitz said that he believed it was too difficult to overcome the statement his client gave to police.
"I thought my client's testimony came out as that of a scared, confused 18-year-old kid who's been incarcerated for two years," he said. "I just don't think it came across well to the jury."
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com or 412-263-2620. First Published May 29, 2013 6:00 PM