Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk reported a New York City man will be in a New Jersey state prison until at least 2056 after being sentenced Friday on numerous charges including Murder and Aggravated Manslaughter for the 2010 killing of a Burlington County man and woman.
Superior Court Judge Michael Kassel sentenced Peter Leonce, M/21, of the 3300 block of 9th Street in Astoria, NY, to 45 years in prison Friday. Leonce was sentenced to 30 years on a count of Murder and 15 on a count of Aggravated Manslaughter, which must be served consecutively. He must serve close to 43 years before he is eligible for parole.
A jury convicted Leonce of these offenses and eight others related to the killings of Michael Hawkins and Muriah Huff after a trial in July. The prison time for the other offenses is to be served concurrently to the sentences for Murder and Aggravated Manslaughter.
Leonce, who was a member of the Bloods street gang, participated in an assault on Hawkins, 23, of Mount Holly, left him beaten, gagged and bound, and placed in a bedroom closet. After additional gang members arrived at the Berkley Street home, he was shot, stabbed and beaten again. Leonce was one of the initiators of the assault on Hawkins, including beating the victim with a baseball bat. Hawkins was killed due to disagreements with Leonce and other Bloods members. Hawkins had raised the ire of the gang members because of his involvement with a rival gang, the Crips, and through perceived minor offenses. One of the catalysts for the assault and killing was Bloods’ members belief that Hawkins had stolen from them a bottle of liquor.
Huff, 18, of Cinnaminson, was with Hawkins at the Berkley Street home. She was murdered after Hawkins’ killers worried about her being a witness to Hawkins’ death. Leonce was found guilty of participating in her killing as well, including putting a bag over her head.
Leonce was found guilty of participating in the effort to hide the crime by cleaning the Berkley Street home of blood, disposing of carpeting and the victims’ clothes and burying the two victims in the home’s back yard.
“Now we stand here and we hear him crying about 30 years, crying about time,” Muriah’s uncle Earl Huff said during the sentencing Friday after listening to Leonce ask the judge for leniency. “Muriah doesn’t have any more time.”
Dr. Rhonda Gibson acted as a caretaker and mentor for Hawkins and briefly spoke about the victim’s life of abuse and abandonment cut short violently. She talked about Hawkins spending much of his childhood moving between foster homes.
“I just really believe he (Leonce) should be given the maximum sentence,” she said.
Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah, who tried the case, emphasized in her remarks that Huff was killed specifically for the purpose of keeping her from telling anyone about Hawkins’ killing.
“Most importantly though there is a tremendous and overwhelming need to deter this defendant and others from threatening those who have witnessed crimes,” she said. “They have to feel safe and be safe and the best way to accomplish this is to punish those who threaten witnesses, those who harm witnesses and those who kill witnesses.”
In rendering his sentence Kassel found that the heinousness of the crimes, the relative helplessness of the victims, the risk of recidivism, the role gang activity played in the deaths, Leonce’s prior criminal record and the need to deter other from committing similar crimes were all aggravating factors in the sentence.
Leonce was found guilty in July of the following offenses: Murder, Felony Murder, Kidnapping, Conspiracy to Commit Murder, Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping, Aggravated Manslaughter, Criminal Restraint, Conspiracy to Commit Murder, Hindering Apprehension and Hindering His Own Apprehension.