Teen guilty of 2nd-degree murder of Philly man walking dog

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Brandon Smith didn’t hold the gun or pull the trigger.

But a Philadelphia jury on Friday found the 17-year-old guilty of second-degree murder in the 2015 attempted robbery and shooting of an Overbrook Farms man accosted by Smith and two other teens as he walked his dog.

The Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury of eight men and four women took just three hours before finding Smith guilty of the murder charge, two counts of conspiracy, robbery and possession of a weapon in the slaying of James Stuhlman, 51.

Pennsylvania’s second-degree murder law lets the jury convict anyone  involved in a conspiracy to commit a felony crime that results in the death of the victim, regardless of whether they used the weapon.

Smith showed no apparent emotion at the verdict but his guardian, Victoria Zou, sobbed in the back of the gallery.

Theresa Stuhlman sat quietly on the other side of the courtroom with about 12 relatives and friends.

“Jim would have been 53 today,” Theresa Stuhlman said afterward. “I would like to thank the jury for their service and everyone involved in prosecuting this case.”

Stuhlman, who owned a Delaware County landscaping business, also left behind an 11-year-old daughter.

Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi set Smith’s sentencing for July 10.

In Pennsylvania, second-degree murder – a killing that occurs while committing another crime — usually carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

But Smith, though tried as an adult, is still a juvenile, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that juveniles may not be sentenced to life in prison without first having a sentencing hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Gail Fairman and defense attorney Joshua E. Scarpello agreed that Smith faces a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison and could still be sentenced to life.

“This is a very sad case,” Scarpello said after the verdict. “His family is just devastated.”

Smith is the only one of the three arrested in Stuhlman’s March 12, 2015, slaying to go to trial. On Monday, before jury selection, Smith rejected a prosecution offer to plead guilty to third-degree murder for a prison sentence of 20 to 40 years.

The 15-year-old shooter, Tyfine “Tavon” Hamilton, pleaded guilty last year to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 to 80 years in prison.

The case against their 14-year-old accomplice, Alston Zou-Rutherford, who lived with Smith under Zou’s guardianship, was handled in juvenile court. Zou-Rutherford was not charged with murder but pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy. He will remain in a juvenile facility until he is 21.

Scarpello called Zou-Rutherford as a witness to try to buttress his defense that Smith reluctantly went along with Hamilton’s idea of robbing someone and tried to stop the crime after Hamilton drew a revolver on Stuhlman.

Zou-Rutherford, who referred to Smith as his brother, testified that, after school, they and Hamilton went to play basketball at the Rose Playground in Overbrook Park.

After about two hours, as it was getting dark, Zou-Rutherford said Hamilton came up with the idea of robbing someone. They headed toward the Overbrook School for the Blind and walked around for about 10 minutes searching for a victim.

Then they spotted the “old man” – Stuhlman – walking his dog “Molly” at 64th Street and Woodcrest Avenue.

Zou-Rutherford said he gave a revolver in his bookbag to Hamilton and waited in the background while Hamilton and Smith approached their target.

Zou-Rutherford said that Stuhlman resisted putting his valuables on the ground and Hamilton became angry. He said Smith ordered Hamilton to “chill” and tried to grab the gun but Hamilton fired and Stuhlman fell to the ground.

Police officers responding to a report of gunshots arrived a short time later and found Stuhlman lying on his back, a flashlight in his left hand and the dog leash in his right. Molly was there sitting next to him.

Fairman argued that Zou-Rutherford lied to police when he was first arrested and lied from the witness standing to protect his brother.

Showing surveillance video of Stuhlman walking his dog with the three teens tailing him, Fairman argued that Zou-Rutherford was too far back to have seen the “body language” he said told him Smith was trying to get out of the robbery.

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