Lancaster man gets new sentence for 1994 murder of city taxi driver; can be paroled in 2019
LANCASTER — A Lancaster man serving life in prison for the murder of a Lancaster taxi driver as a 14-year-old in 1994 will have the chance for parole in 2019, according to the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.
Levar Jones pleaded guilty in 1995 to shooting Brian Whetts in the back during a robbery near the Lancaster Amtrak station in October of 1994. He was sentenced to life in prison.
But Jones, now 37, was granted a re-sentencing hearing after a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision deemed life sentences for juvenile offenders unconstitutional.
After the three-hour hearing concluded, Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker issued a new sentence of 25 years to life for Jones.
Having already served 23 years and two months, Jones would be eligible for a parole hearing in 2019.
Jones’ accomplice in the case, Manuel Ortiz, is expected to receive a new sentence at a hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Assistant District Attorney James Reeder argued in court that Jones has shown no empathy for his victim or remorse for his crime, as recently as 2013, as opined by a mental-health official at Jones’ prison. That makes rehabilitation impossible, Reeder argued, at least in the near future.
Jones’ defense team argued that Ortiz manipulated Jones into committing the crime and that Jones has behaved while incarcerated and completed programs.
“Brian Whetts remains dead,” Reeder argued, describing Whetts as a “good and gentle working man.”
Whetts’ relatives described him as the “glue” of the family who was killed because he didn’t have the money Jones and Ortiz demanded during the robbery.
The family said they are “unmoved” by Jones’ apology Tuesday.
“We continue to carry the burden of Brian’s death, 23 years later,” Louise Williams, Brian’s mother, wrote in a statement read to the court.
President Judge Reinaker, while ordering sentence, said he has “no great deal of concern” for the safety of the community upon Jones’ release, based on his behavior since his incarceration and strong family support system.
Jones is the tenth of 12 inmates – previously serving life for killings they committed as juveniles in Lancaster County – to be re-sentenced.