YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Two teens accused of the 2021 shooting death of a 14-year-old boy pleaded guilty today in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Anthony Wilkins Jr. and Anjuan Whitfield, both 17, pleaded guilty before Judge Anthony Donofrio to charges of involuntary manslaughter and being a felon in of possession of a firearm.
They were sentenced to 17 to 22 and a half years in prison, a sentence recommended by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and upheld by Judge Donofrio.
The pleas head off a trial that was to start Monday.
The two are charged with the November 21, 2021, shooting death of Landon Lockhart, 14. Lockhart was found on January 13, 2022, in a wooded area on the East Side.
The two were initially charged in juvenile court, but their cases were bound over in May to common pleas court after a bind-over hearing was held.
A third 17-year-old pleaded guilty earlier this year in juvenile court for his role in Lockhart’s death.
Assistant Prosecutor Rob Andrews told the judge that Lockhart’s mother never gave up hope she would find her son even though he was missing for almost two months. He called the murder a “terrible, heinous crime.”
“Not knowing where her son was took a toll,” Andrews said.
Jovonna Solomon, Lockhart’s sister, said her brother’s death has destroyed her family.
“You have no idea what you took from us,” she said. You destroyed our mother and our family. What you took from our family can’t be replaced.”
She added she hopes the two are “haunted” by Lockhart’s memory for the rest of their lives.
“We miss him so much,” she said.
Lajena Solomon, Lockhart’s mother, said she needs to forgive the two because that is the only way she can move on from her son’s death.
“I forgive ya’ll,” she said. “I have to say that because that’s the only way I can live through this. You have turned my life upside down. Landon did not deserve this.”
Lajena said her goal is to keep her son’s memory alive throughout the city.
Tony Meranto, Whitfield’s attorney, said the case is a perfect microcosm of the failure of the families of the defendants and the school system to prepare young people in Youngstown for life.
Whitfield apologized but Judge Donofrio said he was puzzled.
“What could a 14-year-old kid do to deserve such a fate?” the judge asked him.
Whitfield said “there’s more to it. He ain’t innocent.”
John Schultz, representing Wilkins, said there is a “disconnect” between adults and young people. He said when starting out as a lawyer, he might have one juvenile murder trial a year. Now, he said, they are becoming more and more common.
Wilkins also said he was sorry.
Judge Donofrio said he had no words of wisdom.
“Thinking of what happened to this 14-year-old child makes me sick, makes me want to throw up.”
“I don’t know what the answer is to correct this issue in our society but it gets younger and younger.”
“Where do they get these guns? Where do they get the money for these guns? I live in the city of Youngstown and I hear the gunshots and it scares the hell out of me. I have children who drive these streets.”
Both defendants will get credit for the time they have served in custody since May 2022 toward their sentences.
Lead investigator Lt. Robert Gentile of the Youngstown Police Department said he was never was able to establish a clear motive in the case and did not want to speculate when asked. However, Gentile said that “disrespect” was one of the reasons for the killing.