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Mixed verdict in West Philly hit-run that killed girl, 8

The driver, Paul Woodlyn 3d, 25, of Overbrook, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident at the start of his jury trial Tuesday. He disputed the other charges against him, including homicide by vehicle.

Family members of Jayanna Powell held a vigil for her on Dec. 18, 2016, at the West Philly crash scene.
Family members of Jayanna Powell held a vigil for her on Dec. 18, 2016, at the West Philly crash scene.Read moreTom Gralish/Staff Photographer

A year ago, Jayanna Powell's parents sat by their dying 8-year-old daughter's side at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and watched her take her last breath. "I love you," her mother said.

This week, her parents, Ayeshia Poole and James Powell, and other relatives sat in a Philadelphia courtroom at the jury trial of the admitted hit-and-run driver who had plowed into Jayanna as she crossed 63rd Street at Lansdowne Avenue on her way home from school.

Jayanna, her shoes and book bag ripped from her by the impact of the crash, was found lying under a tree next to the road, 100 feet south of the West Philadelphia intersection, and died that day at CHOP.

Her brother Hassan Cox, then 12, who was holding her hand, was struck in his right knee by the fleeing car and survived.

The driver, Paul Woodlyn 3d, now 25, of the 1200 block of Marlyn Road in Overbrook, pleaded guilty at the start of his trial Tuesday to a felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. He disputed the other charges — homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, and recklessly endangering another person.

On Friday, a jury of nine women and three men acquitted Woodlyn of the homicide by vehicle charge, but convicted him of manslaughter and reckless endangerment. The panel deliberated seven hours over two days.

Poole, 31, clearly upset and on the verge of tears after hearing the acquittal on the homicide charge, declined to comment afterward. Powell, 45, the father, said: "It's crazy. I never get to see my daughter again. … I have to go to the gravesite."

Woodlyn, who showed no reaction upon hearing the verdicts and who has been in custody since his arrest Nov. 30, 2016, is to be sentenced Jan. 19 by Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O'Keefe. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum of 17 years.

It was 3:12 p.m. Nov. 18, 2016, when Jayanna, a second-grader at the Lewis C. Cassidy elementary school at 6523 Lansdowne Ave. in Overbrook, and her three siblings were crossing the south side of 63rd at Lansdowne.

Woodlyn was driving south on 63rd. His light had just turned green. Testifying Wednesday, Woodlyn said the car in front of him in the right lane was stopped, so he drove around the car and went through the intersection in the left lane.

"I didn't see the kids," he testified. Once he saw them, he said, he couldn't avoid them.

"I just closed my eyes," he said. "After the impact, I just panicked and I left."

He claimed he hit his brakes, "but it was too late."

"I didn't deliberately hit anyone," Woodlyn testified.

Assistant District Attorney Erica Rebstock pointed out that Woodlyn was not charged with deliberately hitting anyone, but rather with driving recklessly and speeding, causing Jayanna's death.

Woodlyn "was driving too fast" while approaching the intersection, she told jurors Thursday. The Nissan hit Jayanna with such force that part of the car's front grill fell off, and the child was thrown 100 feet away, the prosecutor said. She was unconscious.

Three bystanders testified that they didn't hear the car brake before or after the crash. Officer Patrick Gallagher of the Accident Investigation District also testified that he saw no skid marks to indicate a vehicle braking.

Jayanna and her brother "shouldn't have been mowed down by this man driving like a maniac," Rebstock told jurors.

Defense attorney Benjamin Cooper said in his closing argument: "This was an accident."

"He left the scene, we all know that," Cooper said. "That's not cool at all. The question here is whether or not he committed a homicide."

Jayanna's death greatly affected the city. On Nov. 29, 11 days after the hit-and-run, police held a news conference at which Poole and Jayanna's father, James Powell, pleaded for the driver to surrender.

Nicholas DiMarcello, owner of a Chester County auto body shop, testified Tuesday that he saw a TV report of the news conference and called police the next day, telling them that a damaged 2012 Nissan Altima matching the description of the vehicle had been brought to his shop Nov. 19. It had been parked outside, and the owner, Jasmine Glover, later identified as Woodlyn's girlfriend, called to get an estimate for the repairs.

She said "it hit a deer," DiMarcello recalled.

"It's been the worst year of my life," Poole said during a break in the trial Tuesday. About 5:30 p.m. this Nov. 18, family members will hold another vigil for Jayanna at the crash scene. They will release pink and purple balloons, her favorite colors.