The Pennsylvania Superior Court for the second time vacated a life sentence without the possibility of parole imposed against a Woodbury man who committed murder as a teenager.
The Superior Court on Wednesday ordered that Deauntay D. Moye, now 21, be given a sentence that offers “some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
Moye was first sentenced by Bedford County Judge Travis Livengood to life without parole in December 2016 after he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killing of 21-year-old Stephanie Waters of Roaring Spring and her dog.
Moye was 16 years old in January 2015 when he shot Waters in the back of her neck and head during a planned robbery alongside Ryan Hardwick, now 20, of Martinsburg, who also pleaded guilty to murder.
The Superior Court in October 2017 vacated Moye’s original sentence following the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Pennsylvania v. Batts of 2017, which stated life sentences without parole were only for the “rarest of juvenile offenders” who are incapable of rehabilitation beyond a reasonable doubt.
District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts argued during the resentencing that Moye’s life without parole sentence was justified for a number of reasons, including repeated attempts to rehabilitate him through juvenile probation prior to the murder.
Livengood resentenced Moye to life without parole on Dec. 20, 2018, saying at the time that Moye had resisted all attempts at rehabilitation.
Moye, who is represented by Chief Public Defender Karen Hickey, appealed the resentencing, arguing that the district attorney’s office did not present evidence showing Moye was permanently incorrigible or incapable of rehabilitation.
During a resentencing hearing in September 2018, the district attorney’s office presented a victim impact statement from Waters’ mother, Sally Harr, but did not “retain an expert, submit an expert report, or present expert testimony” that supported its position that Moye is incapable of rehabilitation, according to the court’s opinion written by Judge Deborah A. Kunselman.
“Moye enjoyed a presumption against the imposition of a life without parole sentence, and the Commonwealth bore the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no possibility that Moye could be rehabilitated at any point later in his life, no matter how much time he spends in prison and regardless of the amount of therapeutic interventions he receives,” the court said in its opinion.
There is no requirement that expert testimony be presented, but court noted that state Supreme Court Justice David Wecht wrote in a concurring opinion in the Batts case that prosecutors for the Commonwealth likely will retain and present an expert in the vast majority of life without parole resentencing hearings, if not all of them.
The Superior Court also ruled that Moye offered credible testimony from Dr. Bruce Wright, a Pittsburgh forensic psychiatrist, at the resentencing hearing about his potential for rehabilitation. Wright, who also provided expert testimony in Moye’s 2016 sentencing, could not conclude that Moye was incapable of rehabilitation.
“Dr. Wright specifically opined, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that, in time and ‘with maturation, structure and appropriate interventions,’ it is possible that Moye could be successfully rehabilitated,” the court said in its ruling.
Wright during the resentencing hearing said Moye had participated in therapeutic programs and had started practicing the Muslim religion.
Moye also contended that the court was presented with several mitigating factors. He claimed his criminal conduct was a result of his unstable home life and introduction to drug use and drug dealing at a young age.
Moye is serving his sentence at the state correctional facility in Dallas, Luzerne County. In 2016 he pleaded to first degree homicide, felony robbery, criminal use of a communication device, firearms not to be carried without a license, conspiracy to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, misdemeanor abuse of a corpse, killing or maiming a domestic animal, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Waters’ body was found Jan. 10, 2015 in the back seat of her vehicle along the 1200 block of Salemville Road, South Woodbury Township. She died of a gunshot wound to the head, authorities said. Her dog, Duke, also was found shot in the vehicle. The weapon used to commit the murder was a .22 caliber revolver.
Police said Moye and Hardwick planned to rob someone and set up a deal to buy marijuana from Waters’ boyfriend, Benjamin Holsinger. Police said Holsinger sent Waters to complete the deal that day. After Waters picked Moye and Hardwick up in her car, Moye pulled out a gun and shot her once in the neck and again in the head, police said.
Moye admitted to driving around in Waters’ vehicle, smoking marijuana, after he shot her. He believed Waters was still alive during that time.
The Superior Court said its ruling “should not be interpreted as minimizing the seriousness of the reprehensible crimes Moye committed,” calling the murder senseless and needless acts of violence.
“As explained by the (Batts) Court, pursuant to established United States Supreme Court precedent, the ultimate issue here is not the nature of the crime committed, but whether an offender is capable of rehabilitation. Our review of the record finds positive support relative to Moye’s potential for rehabilitation. Hence, the sentence of life imprisonment without parole was beyond the sentencing court’s power to impose, and therefore illegal.” the court ruled.