Deadly deals in York County: They plotted a marijuana ripoff that ended in tragedy

Isaiah Ishmael Hemphill
Isaiah Ishmael Hemphill York County Sheriff's Office

Isaiah Hemphill wanted to get higher than he could with the cocaine and other drugs he had used, so he plotted with three other men to steal marijuana.

They found a target who tried to escape from the scam. There was a vehicle chase and the victim was blocked, court testimony showed. Hemphill got out of the car he was in and shot Justin Penland in the head.

All that happened to get marijuana that police later found did not exist. A container, believed to contain 14 grams of marijuana, was empty, prosecutors said.

"There were no drugs," said Willy Thompson, 16th Circuit Solicitor in court last week, when Hemphill and two others were sentenced. "Justin Penland died for literally nothing. This was a total waste of human life."

Prosecutor Misti Shelton said the price of a drug deal gone bad is that a father of two daughters died.

Of 41 people charged in homicides in York County in the past three years, 17 involved marijuana where the seller or buyer was killed, Thompson said.

"The most common way to die by homicide in York County is over drug ripoffs involving pot," Thompson said. "Just like in this case where these men did not rob Mr. Penland of his pot. They robbed him of his life."

Three of the men involved in the plot found out Wednesday that their act came with a price.

Isaiah Hemphill, 22, who admitted he had used cocaine, ecstasy, alcohol and marijuana the day of the killing, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for manslaughter, attempted armed robbery and a weapons charge. He had pleaded guilty in June, after the murder charge against him was reduced to manslaughter.

Donovan Kendrick Allen, 18, whose camouflage painted, hot-rod car was used in the plot, received nine years for attempted armed robbery, obstruction of justice, and drug and weapons charges.

Shaun Allen Welte, 18, who set up Penland as a target, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted armed robbery, obstruction and drug charges.

Johnte Kaheem Williams, 20, is the fourth man involved in the crime. Williams, whom court testimony showed he has cooperated with police, remains jailed without bond. His charges are pending.

In court Wednesday, prosecutors and defense lawyers painted a picture showing that drugs and guns almost always lead to prison and death.

Penland was 27 years old. He had two daughters, according to court testimony. The bullet went through Penland's forehead, testimony showed.

Allen sobbed as the October 2017 incident was described.

The four men left the apartment where Penland had been shot. They went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and ate supper. Then they drove to Walmart and stole black paint to try and hide the getaway car, prosecutors said.

"If only one of these men spoke up, this never would have happened," Woge said.

Penland's stepmother, Beth Penland, said in court that "this violence has got to be stopped."

"No matter what was happening that day, it didn't have to end up in murder," she said.

The men contacted Welte to buy a gun, testimony showed. Welte couldn't supply the gun, but he told the men about Penland, prosecutors and defense lawyers said.

"Welte contacted Penland, who had sold Welte pot before, and set up a meeting," Shelton said. "But the plan all along was to rob Penland."

In mid-November 2017, after text messages and phone records were reviewed by police, and Welte and Allen told police what had happened, all four in the car were arrested.

Hemphill admitted in a guilty plea that he was the shooter, prosecutors said.

York County Public defender Harry Dest, Hemphill's lawyer, said in court last wek that Hemphill's substance abuse led to the killing.

"That's not an excuse, but that's what happened," Dest said

In court, he said only "thank you" when Judge Michael Nettles handed down the sentence.

After the crime, Hemphill targeted Welte, one of the co-conpsirators, because of concerns that Welte would talk to the police, said prosecutors and lawyers.

"Mr, Welte was threatened with violence if he snitched," said Geoff Dunn, Welte's lawyer.

Welte initilly lied to police before eventually confessing to his role, Dunn said.

Welte's father, Phil, said in court that he forced his son to go to the police after the shooting.

"I am crushed to be here," Phil Welte said. "The fact that the whole thing revolved around drugs angers me."

Shaun Welte apologized.

"I'm very sorry for my role in this," Shaun Welte said. "I know saying sorry will never fix this. I hope people can find it in their hearts to forgive me."

Donovan Allen's lawyer, Leland Greely, said he wished Allen had been in jail the day of the killing. Allen had been stopped for marijuana possession earlier in the day, but was given a ticket and not arrested.

When Allen was confronted by police after the killing, he lied, but eventually gave a full confession, testimony showed.

Greely said Allen was asked to bring Welte to Hemphill. Allen did not do that.

Allen cried for much of his time in court last week. Then he apologized.

"I am sorry for Justin Penland and his family," Allen said. "He didn't deserve it."

The lawyers involved said nobody did anything to stop the crimes.

"There is no answer to why this awful killing happened," Shelton said. "Nothing will make it right."

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald
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