A prison inmate who, as a 17-year-old, cased a Lancaster city store for a robbery that turned into murder will be paroled after serving 25 years behind bars.
Anthony R. Lewis, now 38, was convicted of second-degree murder and in 1997 sentenced to life in prison for the March 1996 robbery that ended in the shooting death of clerk Michael Heath.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed life sentences against juveniles “unconstitutional” prompted the resentencing of Lewis – and 11 other inmates serving life terms for killings they committed as juveniles in Lancaster County.
On Wednesday, after an hour-long hearing, Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker ordered Lewis serve 25 years to life. In about four years, Lewis will have a parole hearing and likely be released shortly after that.
On May 23, 1996, Lewis cased the former Uni-Mart at Duke and Liberty streets for cameras, told his three co-defendants the store is a good target, then served as lookout during the planned robbery.
Aramis Gonzalez III, then 16, asked Heath for money, then counted down from three before fatally shooting Heath. Clarence Laudenberger and Rodney Lee Walton also were convicted in the case.
All three also were juveniles at the time and will be up for re-sentencing hearings in the next week.
“This is a gut-wrenchingly horrible case in which an innocent father and husband was mercilessly gunned down,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said after the hearing. “His sentence, and that of his family, was and is permanent.”
During the Wednesday hearing, Sherry Heath, spoke of how she lost her “best friend, my husband and dreams of living a happy future with Mike.”
Sherry Heath takes medication to this day to help her cope. She said she opposed Lewis having a parole date, saying Lewis gave Michael an “irrevocable life sentence.”
Assistant District Attorney Ande Gonzalez played the 911 call Heath made after he was shot and struggled to reach a phone.
“I’ve been shot,” a weak voice says on the recording. “Help me. I’ve been shot. Duke and Liberty.”
Wheezing can be heard – Michael Heath’s last breaths – before the phone disconnects.
President Judge Reinaker said he considered the impact on the victim’s family and the community, while noting the law now calls for “individualized sentencing” of offenders who killed as juveniles.
Lewis testified of how he has completed programming, served as a mentor to young inmates, and earned his GED while incarcerated.
His aunt testified he can live with family when he is paroled.
Of this case and the upcoming re-sentencing hearings, District Attorney Stedman said:
“Regardless of the result of 25 or 30 years, as these cases pile up, and murderer after murderer gets paroled and/or dramatic reductions in their sentences and are released into our communities, I cannot say that Lancaster County is safer or that it feels like justice is being better served.”
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