A York City man convicted as a teen of murdering a man he’d allegedly robbed hours earlier has won a new trial.
Jacquez Davon Brown was 15 years old when he gunned down 19-year-old Tony Wasilewski just hours after robbing the man of his cellphone, York City Police have said.
He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years to life in state prison. In Pennsylvania, first-degree murder convictions carry an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole for adults. Juveniles convicted as adults can still be sentenced to life, but a judge must determine the punishment.
Brown’s current attorney, Heather Reiner, won her client a new trial by arguing that trial defense attorney Gary Kelley provided ineffective counsel for failing to call eyewitness Dominick Breeland to the stand for the defense.
“I went to see (Brown) right away,” to tell him about his new trial, Reiner said. She confirmed her client remains incarcerated as his case makes its way through the court system.
“He’s very grateful to have another opportunity to have a fair trial,” she said. “He would like another opportunity to argue that his actions were in self-defense. … He’s been waiting for this day for a long time.”
Self-defense claim: According to Reiner, Breeland witnessed the struggle that led to Wasilewski’s homicide and, if called, would have supported the defense strategy of self-defense. However, he was never interviewed by the trial defense attorney, she said.
Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney’s Office, said a decision has not yet been made regarding whether to appeal Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn’s ruling overturning the conviction.
“We are at this point discussing and reviewing our appellate options,” he said.
Reiner said she’s hoping the matter will end in a non-trial resolution, meaning a plea agreement.
The background: York City Police said Brown and a group of friends robbed Wasilewski of his cellphone the morning of July 20, 2011. A few hours later, about 2:30 p.m., Wasilewski spotted Brown and confronted him about the stolen phone in front of Wasilewki’s home in the 300 block of East Princess Street, police said.
That confrontation turned physical, at which point Brown pulled a stolen 9mm handgun and shot Wasilewski repeatedly, then fled the scene, police said.
Brown then took a hostage at gunpoint and forced him into a home in the 300 block of East Philadelphia Street, police allege.
The hostage escaped unharmed, after which patrol officers surrounded the house and arrested Brown on the roof, police said.
While searching the rooftop, officers found Wasilewski’s stolen cellphone.
The stolen 9mm handgun was found in the same building about two months later, hidden under a piece of furniture, according to trial testimony.
Brown was never charged in the alleged hostage-taking, and jurors at his homicide trial didn’t hear about it. They took less than two hours to convict him of first-degree murder.
Wasilewski grew up in Kingston, Luzerne County, and moved to York to be closer to his girlfriend, according to his family.
Tried as adult: Brown faced trial as an adult after Common Pleas Judge Thomas H. Kelley VI determined the teen’s history of violence made him a poor candidate for rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system.
Judge Kelley noted Brown had a history of aggressive behavior and assaults on others starting when he was 8 or 9 years old.
He was repeatedly suspended from school, starting in third grade, for fighting and once for carrying a pocketknife, according to Kelley’s ruling, which stated Brown dropped out of high school in 10th grade.
In 2009, he was charged as a juvenile for shooting someone in the face at close range with a BB gun and was placed on probation for a year, according to Kelley.
Spoiling for a fight? “Indeed, it appears as if the defendant is … arming himself in anticipation of conflict and almost seeking out conflict in order to employ whatever weapon he has seen fit to conceal on his person,” Kelley wrote in his order. “Given the defendant’s age and the ongoing and escalating level of violence … (Brown) undoubtedly poses a threat to the safety of the public.”
Kelley also wrote in his order that Brown’s self-defense claim is challenged by the fact that he continued to shoot Wasilewski after the victim was lying on the ground, and then fled the scene.
During Brown’s 2013 sentencing hearing, Judge Renn made note of Brown’s juvenile record and his “assaultive and disruptive behavior” after being incarcerated.
“It is clear the defendant has to be segregated from society, for society’s protection … for a significant period of time,” Renn said. He sentenced Brown to 50 years to life.