Justina Morley was fifteen years old when she took part in the brutal murder of an another teenager. According to court documents Justina Morley lured the victim Jason Sweeney to a remote location with the promise of sex where he would be fatally attacked by Edward Batzig, Domenic and Nicholas Cola. According to police the reason that Jason Sweeney was attacked is that the group knew he had just been paid. This teen killer Morley would be sentenced to 17 and a half to 35 years in prison, as of this writing she is still incarcerated. Edward Batzig, Domenic and Nicholas Cola all received life sentences.
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Nicholas Coia wore a blue prison uniform, handcuffs and a blank expression yesterday as he was led into court for a resentencing hearing in the brutal 2003 murder of 16-year-old Jason Sweeney.
Coia, 28, sat next to his lawyer, his back to the victim’s parents Dawn and Paul Sweeney and his sister Melissa Vereb, who were among the witnesses called to testify at the hearing to determine whether Coia’s life sentence should stand.
“My precious baby boy had been beaten to death so brutally that I had to identify him by a fresh scar on his hand,” Dawn Sweeney testified, tears streaming down her face. “I sat in the court room listening to testimony that a couple of weeks prior to Jason’s murder, the four of them originally wanted to murder me and my whole family while we slept.”
She asked that Coia’s life sentence be upheld.
Coia, 16 at the time of the killing, was convicted of first-degree murder in March 2005, along with his brother Domenic Coia and their friend Edward Batzig, for the brutal slaying of Sweeney in Fishtown. A fourth teen, Justina Morley, then 15, pleaded guilty in the slaying and was sentenced to 17 1/2 to 35 years in prison.
The three boys, all under 18 at the time of the murder, were sentenced to life in prison without parole. However, in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life sentences given to juveniles were a violation of the 8th amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, and required that juveniles sentenced to life be resentenced.
The resentencings must take into consideration the juvenile’s age at the time of the murder as well as other factors.
During yesterday’s hearing, Special Agent Richard Reinhold, who investigated the murder in 2003, described the vicious wounds found on Sweeney’s face and testified that Coia spent weeks plotting to kill Sweeney with the intent to steal his money.
Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy, asked Reinhold to explain how Coia enlisted the help of Morley to lure Sweeney to the location where Coia, his brother and Batzig hacked and clubbed him to death with multiple weapons including a rock and a hatchet.
Vereb, the victim’s sister, asked that Coia’s sentence stand, saying he was incapable of change.
“Forgiving them means that it hurts less today than it did 12 years ago,” she testified. “I only ask that you find it in your judgment to understand that while some people are capable of becoming better than their past, that Coia is not. This was a well thought out murder. One where he had plenty of time to stop it from happening.”
The hearing before Common Pleas Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd continues today.
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Jason Sweeney, 16, was a brown-haired, easygoing teenager who loved working beside his father on construction jobs. His best friend was Eddie Batzig, a bespectacled 16-year-old. The girl he wanted to bring home to meet his mother was pale, slender Justina Morley, 15.
On the evening of May 30, Justina allegedly lured Jason to the Trails, a wooded area of the working-class Fishtown section of Philadelphia along the Delaware River. She promised him sex.
The two were undressing when Eddie allegedly appeared with a hatchet. With him were two other teenage boys Jason knew. One was armed with a hammer.
According to the confession of Dominic Coia, who appeared in court recently, Jason was beaten savagely and fatally. The three young men are charged as adults with murder along with Morley, who police say was part of the plot.
As Jason lay dying, Coia told police, “We took Sweeney’s wallet out and split up the money, and we partied beyond redemption.” But first, he said, the teens shared “a group hug–it was like we were all happy with what we did.”
Like any big city, Philadelphia is accustomed to almost daily murders, some of them brutal, some committed by teenagers. But this one was different, and the accused teens’ apparent callousness and utter lack of remorse have shocked the city.
The accused killers were not high on drugs. The killing was not random. It was not a crime of passion or self-defense or a drug deal gone bad.
A police detective testified that he asked Coia, 18, whether he was high on drugs during the murder. “No, I was as sober as I am now,” he replied. “It is sick, isn’t it?”
The killers planned the crime several days in advance, according to police. They sent Morley as “the bait,” Coia told police. As Sweeney lay unconscious after the first blows, they smashed his face at least a dozen times. They left with Sweeney’s $500 weekly salary, which they spent on heroin, marijuana and the depressant Xanax.
To prepare for the killing that day, Coia told police, “we must have listened to `Helter Skelter’ about 42 times.” Mass murderer Charles Manson said the Beatles song inspired him and his followers during their 1969 killing spree in Los Angeles.
Batzig, who had been Sweeney’s best friend since 4th grade, told a detective that he hit his friend’s face four or five times with a hatchet, according to court testimony.
“Jason started begging for his life, but we just kept hitting him,” Batzig told police.
At a preliminary hearing June 17, no explanation was offered for why the killers did not simply rob Jason. Jason’s father, Paul Sweeney, thinks he knows why.
“Jealousy,” he said last week in the kitchen of his Fishtown row house. “They were jealous that Jason was moving past them, growing beyond them as a good person. He wasn’t hooked on drugs like the rest of them, and they wanted vengeance.”
Coia abused heroin, marijuana and alcohol, according to his lawyer, Lee Mandell. Morley, Batzig and Coia’s brother, Nicholas, 16, abused heroin, marijuana and prescription drugs, according to court testimony.
On the day of the killing, Dominic Coia told police that the killers left the house to hide in the woods as Morley lured Jason to the site. They put on latex gloves, Coia said.
They counted down “three, two, one,” Coia said, and then they attacked.