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Judge gives threat defendant a caution with probation

The sentencing should have been routine: a guilty plea to witness intimidation, a probationary sentence agreed to by prosecution and defense.

The sentencing should have been routine: a guilty plea to witness intimidation, a probationary sentence agreed to by prosecution and defense.

But Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, citing his often-frustrating 14 years as a homicide judge, decided to make it a teachable moment.

"I don't know if any of this will register, but you have to sit there until I'm done talking," Lerner, 71, told Toteyana Jones.

"Today's victims' families are tomorrow's defendants' families, and one reason for this is the stupid, ignorant no-snitch culture," Lerner said Wednesday as Jones sat quietly with attorney Bruce Wolf.

Jones, 25, pleaded guilty to witness intimidation and assault for June 18, 2011, threats and a brawl involving a witness against Jones' brother Donte, 24.

The backstory to the brawl on South 61st Street in Southwest Philadelphia shows how quickly offense and retaliation can trigger a violent chain reaction.

It begins shortly after midnight Sept. 25, 2010, when 21-year-old Tawayne Foster, driving his 1989 burgundy Cadillac, and two friends give Amanda Alston a lift home.

Spotting the encounter is Alston's ex-boyfriend, Brandon Johnson, 22, and friend Donte Jones.

According to police, Johnson and Jones walk up to Foster's car in the 6500 block of Chester Avenue and begin arguing with Foster. Shots are fired by the men outside the car and by one inside, and Foster is dead of a bullet to the neck.

Fast-forward to June 18, 2011, when, according to Assistant District Attorney Dennis McCloskey, Toteyana Jones calls Alston and threatens her if she testifies against her brother.

A short time later, McCloskey said, Jones and boyfriend William P. Cook, 25, and 10 girlfriends show up on South 61st, and the brawl begins.

McCloskey said a video of the incident was posted on Facebook.

Donte Jones and Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder and are serving life sentences without chance of parole.

"I just want to say I [am] sorry and embarrassed for my actions," Toteyana Jones told Lerner. "The situation involved my brother, so I was not thinking very clearly. I'm not that kind of person."

McCloskey told Lerner the no-jail plea deal was justified by Toteyana Jones' decision to immediately cooperate and plead guilty, and because the entire chain - from killing to brawl - was fueled by soured romances and family relationships rather than criminal activity. McCloskey said the same sentence was imposed on Jones' sister, Taquana Blackwell, 19, who was also arrested.

Wolf told Lerner that Jones just wanted to be home with Cook - charges against him are pending - and raise their baby.

Lerner reminded Jones that she spent four months in jail after her arrest before she was released on $250,000 bail in June because of her high-risk pregnancy.

Lerner ordered her to stay away from Alston and her family. He also ordered Jones to get a high school diploma - she finished eighth grade - and vocational training.