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With ruling on juvenile offenders, victims’ families fear killers’ release

PTRWEISS013116
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
In his New Castle home, Friday, Jan. 29, 2016, Jay Weiss , Jr. holds a photo of his father, Jay Weiss Sr. he keeps on his phone. Jay Weiss Sr. was killed in 1993 on the North Side while delivering pizza. He was ambushed by two gunmen who shot hime to death, then ate the pizza. Jay. Jr. was 8 at the time, with two older sisters. The murder led Governor Tom Ridge to enact laws (Act 33) that made juveniles who commit violent crimes more likely to be tried as adults and receive life sentences. The Supreme Court recently ruled that such sentences can be challenged, meaning Jay Jr. now might see more hearings, and maybe even the early release of his dad's murderer.

Dad tucked him in and kissed him good night, as he did every night.

Then he slipped out to buy cigarettes at the North Side pizza shop where he worked.

While he was there, a delivery call came in.

Jay Weiss Sr., a single dad, did not have to go. But he agreed to ride with his younger co-worker because the delivery was on a street known for violence and crime. Weiss wanted to be sure that his friend would be safe.

Several hours later, a policeman knocked on the door at Weiss’ Brighton Heights apartment.

“I was asleep,” recalled his son, Jay Weiss Jr. “I was the one to get up first. I answered the door.”

He was 8.

He had a mother who left the family and a dad who did not.

And now he stared at a cop who did not have the heart to tell him what happened.

“He pulled my oldest sister off to the side and said, ‘Do you have other family nearby?’ ” Weiss Jr. said. “My sister said yes. The cop said, ‘OK, you guys need to pack up what you can pack up.’ ”

Uncle John delivered the news.

Jay Weiss Jr. did not respond. He and his sisters could only sob.

“We were all crying and hugging him,” Weiss Jr. said, “and my Uncle John said, ‘Man, I wish I had another arm to hold you all.’ ”

It happened Sept. 9, 1993.

Weiss worked at Chubby’s Pizza and Hoagies on California Avenue. The call — for two cheese pizzas and Mountain Dew — came from Lamont Street.

Weiss was 34. His co-worker, Paul Puhac, was 18.

Dorian Lamore and Phillip Foxx were both 16.

The teenagers, each carrying handguns, ambushed the car on the narrow street.

Lamore shot Weiss in the neck, killing him as he sat in the passenger seat. Foxx pulled Puhac from the car and shot him in the arm.

The boys stole $100 from Puhac and the pizza out of the car. Detectives found the crusts in a vacant home in which Foxx was staying.

“I think of him every moment I breathe,” Weiss Jr. said. “He said his biggest dream was to see his kids have a happy life. … I miss my dad. I want him back.”

Lamore and Foxx were tried as adults, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Weiss thought that part of his life — worrying about the fates of his dad’s murderers — was over.

But in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that life sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. And last week, the high court ruled that its decision could be challenged retroactively, meaning every juvenile lifer — including Lamore, Foxx and 477 others in Pennsylvania — can challenge their sentences.

Advocates and legal experts argue that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is cruel and inhumane, that America is the only country to send its kids away forever, that their brains are not yet fully developed, including the part that weighs consequences.

Weiss and other victims’ families have a response:

What about us?

“I want to hop a bus and go to the Supreme Court,” Weiss said after the ruling. “I want to ask them: ‘Why are you not incorporating me into this decision? Why aren’t victim’s families getting a say? How are you going to protect us for the rest of our lives? How are we not going to worry that if these idiots get out they won’t come and find us?’ ”

Memories of that night he must relive for the rest of his life.

And now, he said, he must also worry anew for his fiancée and his two kids if the killers are released.

“They talk about rehab and making them better people,” he said. “But how am I supposed to believe that?”

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