Man who counted to 3 before killing Lancaster store clerk in 1996 given parole chance

Aramis Gonzalez III

LANCASTER — A prison inmate who – 21 years ago – counted to three, then fatally shot a Lancaster city store clerk, now has a potential parole date.

Aramis Gonzalez III was 15½ when he killed Michael Heath on May 23, 1996, inside the former Uni-Mart at Duke and Liberty streets. A year later, Gonzalez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Gonzalez, now 37, was in Lancaster County Court Wednesday for a re-sentencing hearing due to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed life sentences against juveniles “unconstitutional.”

At the end of a three-hour hearing, Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker sentenced Gonzalez to 30 years to life.

Having already served about 21½ years, Gonzalez would be eligible for a parole hearing in 2026.

“I cannot express how extremely discouraging this reduced sentence is to the Heath family, my office, and law-enforcement, overall,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. “Our system continues to victimize this family. Sherry Heath was told the actual killer would never be released. Now, she faces the prospect of running into her husband’s murderer on the street in a few years. She will not, however, be seeing her husband.”

Anthony Lewis, Clarence Laudenberger and Rodney Lee Walton also were convicted in the Heath killing.

But it was Gonzalez who demanded money from Heath, then counted to three before shooting Heath in the neck. Heath, a 38-year-old married father, died in the store. He would have celebrated a birthday Tuesday.

In ordering sentence, President Judge Reinaker said he has tried to be “consistent” with appellate court rulings over what should be considered at re-sentencing hearings. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has provided re-sentencing guidelines, which in Gonzalez’s case, call for a minimum 35-year prison term.

“This case called for far more than the minimum recommended sentence of 35 years,” District Attorney Stedman said. “Yet, he got even less than the minimum.”

In court Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Ande Gonzalez stressed the crime’s devastation on Heath’s surviving family and the community.

Assistant District Attorney Gonzalez acknowledged Gonzalez’s difficult home life, but noted Gonzalez has prior juvenile convictions and was not compliant with most of his placements and other court orders.

Since incarceration in 1997, Gonzalez has had 42 misconducts, being found guilty of 39 of them, Assistant District Attorney Gonzalez presented to the court. His behavior in prison only improved, Assistant District Attorney Gonzalez presented, when he learned he could have a re-sentencing hearing.

Also, Assistant District Attorney Gonzalez presented, Gonzalez has been affiliated with the Crips gang.

Sherry Heath, Michael’s widow, was present for the hearing but did not speak; she opposed parole at re-sentencing hearings for Gonzalez’s three co-defendants.

In recent months, Lewis and Walton were each re-sentenced to 25 years-to-life terms; Laudenberger was re-sentenced to 21 years to life, meaning his parole hearing could be scheduled at any time.

Gonzalez is the ninth of 12 inmates – previously serving life for killings they committed as juveniles in Lancaster County – to be re-sentenced.

Source: Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office