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Co-defendant in taxi driver’s 1994 murder also gets parole chance

Manuel Ortiz

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — The man who supplied the gun and conspired in the murder of Brian Whetts 23 years ago now has a chance for parole.

Manuel Ortiz was convicted at trial of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Whetts, during an Oct. 26, 1994, robbery inside the 32-year-old man’s taxi. Ortiz was 16 at the time.

Ortiz, now 39, 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 two-day hearing, Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker sentenced Ortiz to 33 years to life.

Having already served about 23 years and 2 months, Ortiz would be eligible for a parole hearing in 2027.

Levar Jones, who was 14 when he pulled the trigger and killed Whetts, was re-sentenced Tuesday morning to 25 years to life.

President Judge Reinaker said he found Ortiz more culpable because he was older and manipulated Jones, who had no previous criminal record, as Ortiz did.

The judge said he is not comfortable releasing Ortiz yet due to his continued violent behavior.

“Much more needs to be done by you,” President Judge Reinaker told Ortiz.

Assistant District Attorney James Reeder argued that although Ortiz was not the triggerman, he might present more of a threat to society due to his continued violence – and affiliation with a criminal gang – while incarcerated.

“He hasn’t changed; he has gotten worse,” Reeder told the judge. “He has stabbed, slashed and fought his way through the state correctional facilities.”

During the hearing, Reeder presented evidence that Ortiz stabbed and slashed inmates in separate incidents and committed other acts of violence.

Also, Reeder presented, Ortiz was, and still is, of high rank within the Latin Kings gang.

“His way of life is violence,” Reeder told the judge. “If you let him get out, that violence will be out with the civilian population.

“It’s not a question of when he’s going to hurt somebody, it’s a question of whose next.”

Whetts’ sisters and cousin appeared in court, telling Ortiz they do not forgive him and were not moved by his apology.

Ortiz’s defense team presented evidence of Ortiz’s negative childhood, which included abusive parents and drug use.

Ortiz is the 11th 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