A Kirkwood man will serve up to 40 years in prison for killing a man during a drug deal last year in Manheim Township.
Robert A. Peters IV, 18, pleaded guilty Thursday in Lancaster County Court to third-degree murder, robbery, and gun charges regarding the Oct. 5, 2015, shooting that killed 21-year-old Nicholas Vassallo.
Peters will serve 15 to 40 years in state prison, in accordance with a plea agreement arranged by Assistant District Attorneys Travis Anderson and Jennifer Ponessa-Hundley.
Peters apologized to Vassallo’s family for what Anderson said were four close-range shots that killed Vassallo on Martha Avenue.
The two men met there for a $3,500 marijuana sale. However, neither brought the full amount of what was agreed on. Peters didn’t have the $3,500; instead, only about $50 in “show money” – a wad of $1 bills with a $20 bill on the outside, according to Anderson. Peters also had a .45-caliber Ruger pistol under the driver’s seat of his car.
Vassallo had a large bag of oregano.
The men asked each other to show what they had; neither did and a physical struggle ensued in the car. Peters fired the shots, Vassallo stumbled out of the car and died on the street, near an old silk mill. Peters fled; the individuals who rode with Vassallo to the scene also fled.
“This is truly a life sentence for me,” Denise Eshleman, Vassallo’s mother, told County Judge David Ashworth. “This is not just a bad dream. This is my new reality. His bedroom is still filled with his clothes and belongings.”
“Did he have a minute to call out to God” before he died?
Diana Vassallo, Nicholas’ sister, said she was at college in Pittsburgh when she got a call that “Nick was shot.”
“It would be easy to call him an addict,” Diana said, telling the judge her brother was funny, charming and smart.
Eshleman said she spent time with her son three days before he was killed. They went shopping together. She recalled buying him things and him saying how he wished he wasn’t addicted to drugs.
She wondered aloud if the “fatal foolish plan” that cost Nicholas his life was to raise money to pay her back for what she bought him.
Judge Ashworth, who oversees the county’s Drug Court, said the case was “tragedy of drug addiction (rearing) its ugly head.”
Ashworth scolded Peters for taking a life “in a callous manner: for drugs and money.”
Manheim Township police Detective Steven Newman filed charges.
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