The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 21, 2013

Shooter pleads guilty in ‘Lee Lee’ Ford death


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SHARON — Twenty-year-old Jontae Maurice Barnes on Friday pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of Le’Angelo “Lee Lee” Crumby Ford and to possession of a firearm without a license for having the pistol with which the Sharon High sophomore was shot.

Ford, 17, of Ravine Place, Sharon, was shot once in the chest during what police called a “gathering” of eight to 10 young people at 20 Strawbridge Ave. in Sharon. He died at 1:47 a.m. Jan. 20 in the hospital of Sharon Regional Health System.

Barnes, who was 19 at the time of the shooting and lived at 381 Liberty St. in Sharon, and another man drove Ford to the hospital after the shooting. Testimony during Barnes’ preliminary hearing indicated that Barnes was handling a revolver and Ford asked to see it; when Barnes wouldn’t hand it over, Ford grabbed at the gun and it went off.

Barnes initially was charged with involuntary manslaughter and third-degree murder.

Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum jail sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years. The maximum penalty for possession of a firearm without a license, a third-degree felony, is 3 1/2 to 7 years.

The third-degree murder charge was withdrawn, according to a news release from Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems

Mercer County Common Pleas Judge Robert G. Yeatts accepted Barnes’ guilty plea Thursday and is scheduled to sentence him at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 4.

Kochems said he is recommending that Barnes receive a maximum county jail sentence of about 2 years for the charge of involuntary manslaughter and then a maximum 7 years’ probation for firearm charge.

For the record, Kochems gave these reasons for his sentencing recommendation:

ä Proving murder in the third degree beyond a reasonable doubt would be difficult. That charge and a potential aggravated assault charge would be tough to prove because the people at the party failed “to be in sufficient fear of the consequences to them when they saw Barnes with the gun” and didn’t leave.

ä Barnes’ age. Any longer sentence would mean sending Barnes to state prison, “limiting his chances at change and success in the future.” If “Barnes proves he did not learn and change while serving the recommended county jail sentence” his probation could be revoked and he could get the same sentence he would have received for third-degree murder or aggravated assault.

ä Barnes’ plea to the firearms violation “shows he is on the correct path of change and taking responsibility for his actions.” By pleading guilty to the gun charge he potentially faces more jail time than if he’d pleaded to only involuntary manslaughter.

ä Barnes has a “minimal criminal record of drunk driving and disorderly conduct.”

Kochems’ news release said the plea agreement was discussed both with Ford’s family and Sharon police.

“They believe it is not sufficient punishment for Ford’s death and does not send a strong enough message for deterrence to the community,” Kochems wrote.

The DA said he will not comment further on the case until Barnes’ sentencing.