MEADVILLE – Three of the four young Crawford County men who killed a man in his Conneautville area home late last summer were sentenced yesterday in front of Crawford County President Judge Anthony Vardaro.
The three men all entered guilty pleas in the last couple of months, escaping potential life sentences.
Austin Taylor, 19, who is believed to be the architect of the plan to rob 46-year-old Ronald Schreffler of marijuana and then kill him, received the maximum sentence for third degree murder of 20-to-40 years.
Brandon Tracy, 19, who pulled the trigger and drove the getaway vehicle, also received the maximum sentence for murder and conspiracy to commit burglary, an aggregate total of 25 to 50 years, and Alan Watkins, 20, got 19-to 40, just shy of the max because he cooperated with investigators, as DA Francis Schultz explains.
“Tracy claimed that, yes, he killed Mr. Schreffler, but that he had to because there was a gun put to his head. And we never believed that, but we had to disprove that beyond a reasonable doubt, and the only way to do that is to get information from the other people that were there. And I certainly wasn’t going to seek the cooperation of Austin Taylor, because I believed he is the ringleader. Alan Watkins was willing to sit down with us and waive his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and tell us what happened, and because of that, I certainly felt that he deserved some consideration for that, and that’s what he received.”
Tracy maintained even through the hearing that Austin Taylor forced him to carry out the shooting at gunpoint.
The fourth defendant, Dakota Taylor, who is just 17, is in the juvenile system and will be released at age 21. Schultz says Taylor’s role in the crime was minimal.
“He didn’t provide the transportation like Tracy did. It wasn’t his plan. He didn’t provide the rifle. He was there. And because of that, and because he cooperated with the Commonwealth, we allowed his case to be transferred from adult court back to juvenile court.”
All four men were also ordered to pay several thousand dollars restitution to Schreffler’s mother, Martha Wheeler.
Taylor’s defense attorney Steve Misko says he’s pleased with the outcome.
“It’s a very difficult resolution, but I think, from our perspective, it was probably the right resolution in this case. My client was relieved to be able to get this off his chest and has always taken responsibility for his actions.”
The sentencing hearing was emotional, with testimony from friends and family of Schreffler, including his mother, father and sister, all of whom indicated that no amount of justice would bring Ron back.
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