Judge declines to bar death penalty in movie theater slaying

YORK, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania judge has declined to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in the case of a man charged in a shooting death inside a movie theater last year.

Common Pleas Judge Craig Trebilcock dismissed arguments from attorneys for Anu-Malik Johnson that prosecutors lacked enough evidence to seek capital punishment and should be barred from doing so due to the defendant’s age, the York Daily Record reported.

In an opinion dated Monday, the judge also rejected Johnson's arguments that he had been denied access to his attorneys due to COVID-19 precautions at Lancaster County Prison.

Johnson, 21, is charged with first- and third-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangering and related offenses in the Dec. 2 shooting of 22-year-old Andre White Jr. at Regal Cinemas 13 in West Manchester Township.

Witnesses have said White had briefly spoken with Johnson and another man as he headed to his seat, but Johnson later approached the seated victim and shot him. Police say a female bystander was shot twice as the gunmen fled. The other man is charged with hindering apprehension and other counts.

At a status hearing, defense attorney Korey Leslie said he believes the case might be ready to go to trial this spring but called such a timeline “incredibly optimistic.”

Two other people are charged with hindering apprehension, obstruction of justice and evidence-tampering in the case, including a man who said he went to the movie with Johnson but didn't know what was gong to happen.