Jeannette 'selfie' killer gets up to 30 years in prison
A Jeannette teen will serve at least 15 years in prison for shooting his best friend in the face, a crime he memorialized by taking a “selfie” with the victim's body.
Maxwell Morton, who turns 19 this week, told a Westmoreland County judge Monday that he did not want to be remembered as a “savage” and conceded that the Feb. 4, 2015, shooting of 16-year-old Ryan Mangan in the bedroom of his Jeannette home was “messed up.”
“Sometimes sorry isn't enough for people, but that's all I have to give,” Morton said.
Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio sentenced Morton to serve 15 to 30 years in prison. A jury in February found him guilty of third-degree murder.
Prosecutors had charged Morton with first-degree homicide, contending he intended to shoot Mangan as the teens fooled around with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun Mangan kept in his bedroom.
The judge noted Morton's age and suggested that using his cellphone to take a photograph of himself smiling with Mangan's body — he was slumped over a chair in the background with a bullet hole under his left eye — rather than call for help substantially altered the case.
“You look like a little boy to me, and now I am faced with sentencing you,” Bilik-DeFazio said. “The reality is this case would be very different but not for that photograph. No one will understand the thought process of taking that photo.”
It was the selfie that police used to link Morton to the murder. Police said Morton took the gun and ran from Mangan's home after the shooting and, later that night, bragged about it to a teen in Wisconsin via a video game system.
As proof of the murder, Morton sent the teen the photograph of himself with the body through the social media app Snapchat. The teen preserved the photo and told his mother, who alerted the police.
Assistant District Attorney Tom Grace argued that Morton should receive a maximum sentence of up to 40 years. Grace said Morton has two prior convictions for assault as a juvenile and another violent incident that occurred after he was jailed for Mangan's shooting.
But Grace said it was the selfie the judge should focus on in determining the sentence.
“When I saw this photograph with the victim lying dead and slumped on a chair and the defendant smiling ear-to-ear, that speaks volumes about his character,” Grace said.
Defense attorney Pat Thomassey argued at trial that the shooting was an accident and that neither teen had malice toward the other. On Monday, Thomassey told the judge that Mangan and his parents were partially at fault for the murder. It was Mangan's gun — one of several he had possession of — and his parent's failure to know about the weapons that led to the shooting, Thomassey said.
“There is a lot of blame to go around in this case. I would know if there were guns in my house, and these parents didn't know,” Thomassey said. “What this is is two kids fooling around with guns. If Maxwell didn't panic and didn't do the stupid things he did, called 911, he probably doesn't even get charged.”
The teens were classmates in the Jeannette school district. At the time of the shooting, they attended Agape, a day treatment center and alternative school for troubled youth.
Mangan's parents told the judge they were devastated by their son's death and said they will be unable to forgive Morton for the killing.
“I have no sympathy for the devil that took my son's life away from me. I hope he ... burns in hell for eternity,” said George Mangan, the victim's father.
Morton's parents described their son as a young man who has struggled with racism but had dreams to attend college.
“This is just tragic,” said his mother, Honey Morton. “These two lives were just destroyed.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.