Two murders, three lives ended

Ricardo Peoples

By: Matthew Voggel

If not for a pair of bloody tennis shoes, a few receipts and a couple stickers, Ricardo Peoples might have lived as a free man for the last 18 years. If he had not been 17 years old when Dionda Morant and Orlando Prince were murdered, Peoples would not now be facing a chance to regain his freedom.  

Ricardo Alphonso Peoples, aka “Rico Williams,” has been held in the State Correctional Institution in Greene County since Feb. 4, 1999. He is currently waiting for a resentencing hearing following the recent U.S Supreme Court decisions, which disallowed mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles. 

Following the 2012 and 2016 Court decisions, nearly 500 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania, like Peoples, will be resentenced as adults. 

Peoples was subsequently convicted on one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder after Morant and Prince, both 22, were killed on May 14, 1997.  

According to a police report, late in the evening on May 13, 1997, Peoples, Prince, Morant and two other friends took a city bus from a bar back to Prince’s mother’s house in Braddock. There, Prince got his nine-millimeter Ruger handgun from the basement, along with two magazines with bright orange stickers on their sides. The group left Prince’s mother’s apartment sometime after midnight to return to an apartment that Prince and Morant shared.  

Afterward, the two other friends left, leaving Morant, Prince and Peoples. The time of their murders was determined to be around 2 a.m. on May 14. 

Both Morant and Prince were discovered dead on May 17, each with a single gunshot wound to the head, according to the police. Two nine-millimeter shell casings were discovered near the bodies. There was no sign of a struggle. Approximately $6,000 had been taken from Prince’s residency.  

A few days after the murders, a friend noticed that Peoples had a magazine in his belt with bright orange stickers, congruent with the magazines used with the murder weapon. Once the police began interviewing known associates of Orlando Prince, they discovered that Peoples had two magazines from the Ruger pistol that was used to kill Morant and Prince.  

The police had all they needed. 

They served a search warrant at Peoples’ residence in Rankin, where they seized a bloody pair of tennis shoes and several pairs of pants, which contained receipts from the prior few days, totaling several hundreds of dollars. Peoples had been spending the stolen money. The blood on the shoes was determined to be consistent with that of both victims.  

At the trial, Peoples’ attorney argued that the prosecution had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was, in fact, responsible for the deaths of Dionda Morant and Orlando Prince. He also protested that Peoples, who was a minor at the time of the crime, should be given life in prison without parole. 

But on Feb. 4, 1999, Judge Terrence O’Brien had no choice but to pronounce the punishment the state made mandatory. Judge O’Brien will soon have a chance to re-consider that decision.  

Since his time in prison, Peoples has petitioned for appeal 10 times and has been denied at each turn.  

O’Brien will be deciding if Peoples should deserve a lesser sentence, based on a number of factors such as the opinion of the victims’ families, Peoples’ behavior in prison and O’Brien’s personal judgment.