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Girl, 8, 'God's sunshine,' is remembered at hit-run driver's sentencing

Jayanna Powell, 8, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in West Philadelphia on Nov. 18, 2016. The driver, Paul Woodlyn 3d was sentenced Friday to 4 1/2 to nine years in state prison.

Family members, police, clergy and friends held a vigil for  8-year-old Jayanna Powell on Dec. 18, 2016, a month after her death, at the West Philadelphia crash site.
Family members, police, clergy and friends held a vigil for 8-year-old Jayanna Powell on Dec. 18, 2016, a month after her death, at the West Philadelphia crash site.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

On the day before her 8-year-old daughter, Jayanna Powell, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in West Philadelphia, Ayeshia Poole shot a cellphone video of her.

"'Mommy, I love you,'" the girl said on the video, a weeping Poole told a judge Friday. "I listen to that tape every day."

At defendant Paul Woodlyn III's sentencing hearing, Poole shared photos of Jayanna: a wallet-size photo of the girl as a baby, Jayanna with her siblings, Jayanna in a prom dress bought at David's Bridal, her kindergarten graduation photo, and her last school photo.

"She had the brightest smile ever," said Poole, 31. "She loved to sing, she loved to dance."

The girl's father, James Powell, 45, recalled Jayanna as "a happy-go-lucky little girl" and lamented that now he must "go to a grave site to talk to my daughter."

The girl's grandmothers, Joyce James and Darlene Maddox, described Jayanna as "God's sunshine."

"She was his rose in this nasty world," Maddox said.

At 3:12 p.m. Nov. 18, 2016, Jayanna, a second grader at the Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School at 6523 Lansdowne Ave. in Overbrook, was crossing the south side of 63rd Street at Lansdowne with her three siblings. Her brother Hassan Cox, then 12, held her hand.

Woodlyn, of Overbrook, was driving south on 63rd. The light had just turned green. The car in front of him was stopped in the right lane, so he drove around it and went through the intersection in the left lane. "I didn't see the kids," he testified at last year's trial.

The prosecutor said Jayanna was hit with such force that she was thrown 100 feet south, landing under a tree next to the road. Her shoes and book bag were ripped from her. The 2012 Nissan Altima driven by Woodlyn also injured Hassan in his knee.

Woodlyn drove off — later claiming to his girlfriend, who owned the car, that he had hit a deer.

On Friday, Jayanna's family and Assistant District Attorney Erica Rebstock sought the maximum sentence for Woodlyn: 8½ to 17 years behind bars.

To the parents' anger and dismay, Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O'Keefe sentenced Woodlyn, 25, to 4½ to nine years in state prison, followed by nine years' probation.

"That was no justice," Poole, the mother, said afterward. Powell, the father, said he was "not happy at all."

The judge told the parents in court that he was "terribly sorry" for their loss. To Woodlyn, he said, "The callousness you showed by leaving the scene with that child on your hood is unimaginable."

Rebstock told the judge that "when the defendant gets behind the wheel of a car, he is an absolute menace to society." She mentioned past instances in which he was cited for running through stop signs and red lights.

But defense attorney Benjamin Cooper told the judge that Woodlyn was "not someone to just cast aside."

At the start of his trial last Oct. 31, Woodlyn pleaded guilty to a felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. A jury three days later convicted him of misdemeanor charges of involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person. The panel acquitted him of a felony charge of homicide by vehicle.

When it was his turn to speak Friday, Woodlyn, who held his head down during much of the hearing, apologized to Jayanna's family and said he would "stand up and do the time."

Of that November 2016 day, he said: "I'm sorry. It was an accident. I shouldn't have left."