PONTIAC — A Walled Lake teenager of a West Bloomfield teenager was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter Monday afternoon in Oakland County Circuit Court.
Leonard White, 16, sat stoically as the verdict was announced in front of his family and the family of Johnathan Rickman, 17, who died June 4 of a single stab wound to the heart.
White faced an open charge of murder, with possibilities of conviction on either first- or second-degree murder charges, as well as a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, a considerably lesser offense, and was found not guilty on the assault charge.
Voluntary manslaughter conviction carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.
The Rickman family, led by father Roderick Rickman of West Bloomfield and mother Amy O'Brien, were distraught coming out of court Monday. After a four-day trial over the course of last week, and 1 1/2 days of deliberations, Rickman said it was a "travesty" for White to not be charged with first- or second-degree murder.
"What happens in three years if he gets out?" said Rickman, who had taken the witness stand on the to recount the last day he had spent with his son. "It's a travesty. What message does it send to the youth of today?"
White had that he was acting in self-defense by grabbing a knife from a kitchen counter and following the victim outdoors to the street on Rafford Lane after being repeatedly punched in the head at a party which involved drugs and gambling. White also recounted two years of bullying that crossed over into social media online and ended on an extremely hot summer weekend evening.
"That was not an accurate depiction of what happened. My son lost his life ... this boy couldn't control his anger," Rickman said.
‘No winners in this case’
Defense attorney Rowland Short said that while White was not surprised with the outcome, he was relieved, as was his family. White had testified that he acted out of reflex and fear after Rickman allegedly showed off a handgun to him over Skype some time prior to the June 4 incident. He also testified that after the beating he allegedly sustained at the hands of Rickman that day, he continues to suffer pain in his jaw.
“We don’t have any plans to appeal,” Short said. “I think the jury did a good job and it’s up to Judge Potts to look at everything and decide how to proceed. We want to avoid Leonard having to go to prison.”
White was also found not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon toward Ronald Foster, a witness who testified last week that he grabbed White in attempt to Keep him from chasing Rickman to the street.
Oakland County assistant prosecutor Jeff Hall declined comment.
Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Potts will pronounce White as an adult or a juvenile at a sentencing hearing Jan. 4. Although the case was heard in circuit court, the venue in which adults are tried, the judge will decide whether White will actually serve his sentence as an adult or juvenile, or whether he will receive a "blended" sentence.