Judge to deliver verdict in death of West Chester man
MEDIA COURTHOUSE >> Judge Gregory Mallon will deliver a verdict next Friday in the trial of a man accused of fatally shooting 27-year-old Joseph Torres last year outside a Chester gas station.
Leyron D. Johns, 20, of the 800 block of West Fifth Street, is charged with murder in the first, second and third degree, robbery, theft by unlawful taking and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver for the July 27, 2015, shooting death of Torres at the Mano’s Gulf station in the 900 block of Kerlin Street.
Codefendant Ronald Myers, 23, pled guilty last month to charges of third-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, and testified against Johns at a bench trial this week.
Myers, who is scheduled for sentencing Nov. 18, claimed Johns used his phone earlier in the day to set up a drug deal where he would sell Torres Percocet. Text messages allegedly sent between Torres and Johns setting up the deal indicated the victim was going to buy 20 or 30 pills of 30mg Percocet at $20 apiece.
Myers said a meeting was arranged at Ninth and Kerlin streets. Myers and Johns walked to the meeting location and allegedly ran into Torres at Sixth and Kerlin. Torres, 27, a union carpenter and married father from West Chester, pointed out where he had parked his 2005 Dodge pickup truck as the trio was walking to find a suitable location for the deal, Myers said. Torres also allegedly mentioned parking the truck at a nearby A-Plus store in texts.
Myers said Torres showed him a picture of the pills he was seeking on his phone after they reached the Gulf station. Myers said he had a pill bottle containing unknown pills in his hand that Johns had provided, but he never showed them to Torres. Myers said Torres then walked over to Johns and showed him the picture as well.
“Next thing I know, Leyron pulls the gun out,” said Myers. “He has it to the back of (Torres’) head. Torres is moving, I tells him if he got anything to give it up and Leyron shoots him.”
Myers said Johns was the first to demand Torres empty his pock-
ets and Torres allegedly responded that he only had a few dollars and his phone.
The two men began to flee the scene after the shooting, but Myers said Johns returned to Torres and fished his truck keys out of his pocket. Myers said he threw the pill bottle on the roof of a nearby Sunoco and Johns handed him the keys to Torres’ truck.
Myers, represented by defense attorney Taylor Dunn, said he took the truck to an alley at Second and Union streets, then walked back to Fifth Street with Johns, where they parted ways.
Johns disputed that series of events in a taped interview with Delaware County Detective Adam Sendak and Chester Police Cpl. William Carey last year.
According to Johns, Myers came to a friend’s house July 27 and said he had a buyer for Percocet pills. Johns said Myers asked him to walk to the meeting spot with him because Myers – who he referred to as “Ron Gees” – did not have the pills and
intended to rob the buyer.
“The guy didn’t have no money, so I guess he was trying to burn Gees,” said Johns. “So Gees told me pull out the gun. I pulled out the gun and I said to the guy, ‘Just give it to him.’ And the guy said, ‘I don’t got it.’ So Gees tell me – he said, ‘Shoot him.’”
Johns said he balked at first, but Myers told him that if he did not shoot, Torres would report them to the police for an attempted robbery.
“So I shot the guy,” said Johns. “Gees said, ‘Get his keys,’ so I grab his keys and I give them to Gees.”
Johns claimed Myers wanted to try to sell the truck on the street. Sendak said Johns denied being under the influence of PCP at the time of the shooting, but he later claimed to have taken Xanax that night.
Johns also claimed in the interview that he was afraid of Myers, who he said had a reputation for hurting people. Johns said in the recording that he was afraid his family might be in danger if Myers was arrested for attempted robbery due to Torres reporting the incident.
Defense attorney William Wismer argued in closing Friday that video surveillance that captured the shooting did not clearly show whether Johns actually went into Torres’ pockets after he was shot or if his keys were on the ground. In either instance, he said Torres was already unconscious by that point and the action of taking his keys was an afterthought.
“The idea of robbing this man was not part of the plan,” said Wismer. “They were going to go and scam him. They were going to go show him some pills that they thought he would take, get his money and leave. There was never
any discussion of a robbery.”
Wismer noted Myers testified that Johns kept saying, “Back up” before he fired, indicating Torres realized he was being scammed and was angry about it. Myers claimed he was going to run when the gun came out, but Wismer pointed to the video, which shows Myers is pushing on Torres’ chest and not allowing him to leave.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael McDevitt agreed with Wismer that Johns and Myers intended to scam Torres from the beginning, but said it went further than that.
“It was their intention all along that this was going to be a robbery,” he said.
McDevitt pointed to video surveillance that clearly shows Torres with his hands up as Johns and Myers appear to make demands of him.
That Torres was killed in the commission of an alleged robbery would make his death a second-degree murder, but McDevitt also argued Johns fired the revolver with malice and the specific intent to kill Torres, making it first-degree murder.
Johns claimed Myers wanted to try to sell the truck on the street. Sendak said Johns denied being under the influence of PCP at the time of the shooting, but he later claimed to have taken Xanax that night