Is it too late now to say 'sorry'?
By: Stephanie Wilkinson
Juvenile lifer Phillip Foxx has another chance to say that he is sorry. Foxx is up for resentencing after spending nearly 24 years in prison.
At age 16, Foxx was convicted of second-degree murder after he and accomplice Dorian Lamore, 16, shot and killed Chubby’s Pizza delivery man Jay Weiss, 34, and wounded driver Paul Puhac. On Sept. 9, 1993, Foxx and Lamore ordered a 12-inch pizza and two sodas to 1016 Lamont Street located on the North Side.
When Weiss and Puhac arrived around 11 p.m., they discovered a vacant parking lot at that address. They were then approached by two armed men.
Weiss, a father of three, was murdered, and delivery driver Puhac was left with a wounded arm. Foxx and Lamore had stolen the pizza and $100 from the vehicle.
In 1994, Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert Dauer responded to an apology from Foxx, saying, ''Were you sorry then, or just sorry now?'' Weiss’s brother John also said, “Sorry isn’t going to bring him back.”
According to 1994 court records, Foxx attributed his criminal behavior to his upbringing. His mother was dead, and he had no contact with his father; he was in this world by himself, he said. Dauer retorted, “People without parents don’t all kill people.”
24 years after his crime, Foxx, now 40, is a model prisoner at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset. He hasn’t had a misconduct in 13 years and has become a mentor to younger prisoners. He is drug and alcohol free. He is active in the prison’s Lutheran ministry and is respected by his peers.
The Rev. John Cochran from Trinity Lutheran Church on the North Side, who knows Foxx personally, said, “I know exactly where Phil's life went wrong and why it went wrong and the disastrous consequences. But there is a wonderful human being there who will make a wonderful contribution to society if he's eventually given a chance to prove that he's reformed himself."
With the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court Case Montgomery v. Louisiana, Foxx could finally have his chance to rejoin society. This case made mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles unconstitutional for all those currently serving such a sentence. Pennsylvania has nearly 500 juveniles facing lifelong sentences based on crimes they committed as adolescents.
"I think [juvenile lifers] should be treated based on the facts of their case rather than mandatory sentences,” State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf said in a 2012 article in the Pittsburgh City Paper. Greenleaf disagreed with mandatory life sentences and expressed hope that resentencing hearings could bring justice to juvenile lifers with records like Foxx’s. “Sentencing should depend on a person's age, their background, their previous criminal record. Not some automatic rule imposing a life sentence," he said.
Jay Weiss Jr., son of Foxx’s victim, has a different perspective. “My understanding was that these guys would never get out of prison. I don't even know how to think about it. But I will fight tooth and nail to keep these guys locked up forever," Weiss Jr. said, also in the 2012 Pittsburgh City Paper story.
Blaming the crime on a poor upbringing, the lack of familial and moral support, and immaturity has not proven to be successful for other criminals with similar situations.
Fellow juvenile lifer Donald Zoller brutally murdered three individuals in 1986 when he was only 14. Since his incarceration, he has been a model prisoner. He trains service dogs and hasn’t had a misconduct in 20 years.
At his hearing in April, Zoller testified that he is remorseful for his actions, knows that he did was wrong and has changed from the person he was at 14. Deputy District Attorney Ronald M. Wabby Jr. denied Zoller’s claims and told Judge Kathleen Durkin that Zoller committed a brutal crime and was fully aware of what he was doing. Durkin sentenced Zoller to 75 years to life, 25 years for each victim.
Foxx’s prospects are not promising either. Mandatory life sentences without parole are now unconstitutional, but some judges are handing out new sentences long enough to surpass a lifetime. Foxx is awaiting a psychiatric evaluation before his resentencing hearing.