A Philadelphia jury on Thursday convicted a 19-year-old South Philadelphia man who admitted to fatally shooting a Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia High School sophomore on South Street last Easter of voluntary manslaughter, but acquitted him of murder charges.
Zahmir White claimed he shot William Bethel IV in self-defense while they were on the 800 block of South in the late afternoon of April 1, 2018. Assistant District Attorney Adam Geer argued to jurors that the shooting was first-degree murder, a deliberate and intentional killing.
By their verdict, jurors didn’t fully accept either claim.
The voluntary manslaughter conviction, based on the instructions given to the jury by Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson, indicated that jurors found that White acted under an unreasonable mistaken belief of self-defense when he fired four shots, one of which hit the 16-year-old Bethel.
When the verdicts were read in the packed courtroom, filled with family members and supporters on both sides, the victim’s mother, Williesha Robinson-Bethel, and father, Bill Bethel III, sat quietly. Both declined to comment. Outside the courthouse, the mother was hugged by supporters.
Evidence suggested the killing grew out of prior disputes between two groups of South Philadelphia teens. Bethel had moved with his family to Roxborough years earlier but was with his past friends from one of the groups when they came across White on South Street.
White, who goes by the nickname “Pikachu,” testified in his own defense Wednesday, admitting he shot Bethel, but claiming he did so because he feared that one of Bethel’s friends, Christopher Elliott, then 18, had a gun in his book bag.
Two friends of Elliott’s testified that no one from their group had a gun there that day.
The prosecution contended that White intended to shoot and kill Elliott, but hit Bethel in the lower back as both were running away. Geer argued that jurors could find White guilty of first-degree murder through a “transfer of intent” — that White intended to kill Elliott, but that intent was transferred when he shot and killed Bethel.
Jurors, who deliberated for 4½ hours, rejected that argument, but returned a mixed verdict by convicting White of attempted murder and aggravated assault in relation to Elliott as a victim. White was also found guilty of recklessly endangering another person and of three weapons charges.
During the trial, tensions were high inside and outside the courtroom. The judge warned family members and supporters on both sides to stay away from each other, and they obeyed his order to not react when the verdicts were read.
White is scheduled to be sentenced by Bronson on June 21. He could face decades behind bars.
Geer said afterward that he had not decided what sentence he would seek. “We always respect the jury’s verdict," he said. "I hope this gives Bill’s family some sense of justice. It’s just sad all around.”
Defense attorney Billy Ciancaglini similarly said: “It was a sad situation all around. Our hearts go out to the other side. Nobody’s celebrating here.”