More than two dozen people took the witness stand this week against the man accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Marley Lion.
Some testified that 32-year-old Ryan P. Deleston was the one who walked up to Lion’s SUV and fired five bullets into the recent high school graduate’s body.
But it was Deleston’s own words that prosecutors saved as the final piece in their effort to prove that he was the triggerman on June 16, 2012, outside a West Ashley bar.
His interview with police detectives on the day of his July 2012 arrest helped a jury convict Deleston after two hours of deliberations Friday night on four charges: murder, attempted armed robbery, using a firearm in a violent crime and possessing a handgun with an obliterated serial number.
Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington told him that she was “unable to make sense of why you committed these acts” and sentenced him to life without parole.
Liz Paige of Johns Island said she would still be reminded of her son’s slaying whenever she pulled into a parking lot. Lion was shot as he slept in his SUV in an otherwise abandoned parking area.
“There really isn’t closure,” Paige said. “It just goes on and on.”
Deleston’s contention that Bryan Latrell Rivers, 29, was the shooter wasn’t enough. Rivers is a felon who admitted to two other robberies in the weeks and hours leading to Lion’s slaying. The attack by his attorney on the credibility of the accomplices who testified against him also fell flat. Both Rivers and 33-year-old Julius Perrell Brown have pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said that making “a deal with those devils” was necessary to ensure Deleston’s conviction. They will be sentenced later to up to 30 years in prison.
The case against George Ellis Brown, 28, who faces charges for providing his Sig Sauer for the attempted robbery of Lion, has not been resolved.
Wilson praised the Charleston Police Department and the informants who testified against Deleston. The homicide inspired Stand Up Charleston, a campaign to encourage residents — law-abiding or not — to talk to the police.
“Those people are in danger now,” she said of the informants after the trial.
Ninth Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington, who represented Deleston, never called a witness. He had tried to have Deleston’s police interview thrown out, arguing that he had never been informed of his rights. The attorney’s effort was fruitless.
After the verdicts, Pennington begged the judge for leniency, saying his client is a father with an inferior intellect that made him easy to manipulate.
But Deleston said nothing. His mother cried as the judge told him that he would be in prison “for the rest of your natural life.”
The admissions Deleston made on video offered fresh details to what one detective dubbed a “ruthless” crime.
For more than four hours, the 12 jurors watched Deleston’s police interview. He first said a man named “Tino” did it. He and his friends were drinking and smoking marijuana at his house on Cashew Street in Ardmore. They heard the shots, he said, but saw nothing.
When he returned later that day for a second round of questioning, he started to change his story.
He told them that he was there that morning outside Famous Joe’s Bar and Grill on Savannah Highway, where Lion had pulled over because he figured he was too drunk to drive home. With Rivers and Julius Brown, Deleston watched from behind a fence as Lion got a pillow from the back of his SUV and climbed in the backseat to fall asleep.
Deleston held the gun, he said, before he gave it to Rivers.
He watched Lion sit up in the backseat and look at the man who had tapped on his window with the muzzle of a Sig Sauer. But Deleston said it wasn’t him.
“Open the (expletive) door,” Rivers told Lion, according to Deleston’s account.
Deleston said he watched as Lion held up a cellphone and sounded the SUV’s panic alarm. He said he watched as the gunman retreated, then returned and shot Lion.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said.
“I never thought that (expletive) would do something like that,” Deleston said. “I thought he would keep it real. ... I don’t understand.”
Deleston eventually realized that the cards were stacking against him. He expressed fear of going to prison.
During a morning interview session, Deleston sprawled on the floor of the interrogation room and napped.
That evening, he chewed on pizza. He asked for a cigarette and a chance to telephone his girlfriend, who is the sister of co-defendant Julius Brown.
During the time Deleston dated her, the Brown family thought he had been “mooching” off the woman, Pennington said during the trial. She has diabetes, one leg and poor eyesight. She collected Social Security checks — what her family thought was Deleston’s reason for sticking around.
Pennington mounted a defense: Julius Brown blamed his client for the shooting as a way to get back at Deleston.
During his police interview, Deleston further discussed how the other men in his crew of robbers didn’t care for him. They called him a wimp when it came to committing robberies. His criminal rap sheet was limited compared with the others. He wasn’t a felon.
An example of his timidity came just an hour before Lion was shot, when Deleston walked to a McDonald’s instead of helping Rivers rob a drunken couple.
Deleston laughed and rebuffed more than a dozen times Detective Richard Burkhardt’s accusation that he was the triggerman.
“Don’t put that (expletive) on me,” he said. “I didn’t kill no Marley.”
The police kept pressuring him to confess, though, as they told him that his accomplices had turned against him.
They asked whether the shooting had been an accident, whether he had just gotten carried away, whether his mind was altered by all the drinking and smoking he had done that night.
“Something really went wrong, and you need to let (Lion’s) family know that,” Burkhardt said. “If it was an accident, it was an accident.”
“I didn’t pull the trigger, though!” Deleston said, his voice booming. “The boys are hanging me out to dry.”
In her closing arguments, Wilson brushed aside any “big conspiracy” that witnesses loyal to Rivers collaborated to “throw Deleston under the bus.”
Deleston interrupted Wilson once during her 55-minute speech — to correct her about the size of shoe he wears.
“Eleven!” he said to some murmurs in the gallery.
Wilson, who prosecuted the case with Chief Deputy Solicitor Bruce DuRant, told jurors that whether Deleston pulled the trigger didn’t really matter.
Her voice rose to a yell at times and fell to a whisper at others. She plucked the small black pistol from the evidence table and showed it to the jury.
Deleston admitted to participating in the attempted robbery of Lion, she said, and a gun was used. He should have known that using a gun in a crime could end tragically, she told the jury.
“How dare (the suspects) claim they didn’t know this would happen,” she said. “Ryan Deleston deserves and has earned a guilty verdict.”
When he made his final plea to the jury, Pennington highlighted the small amount of DNA on Lion’s SUV that went untested. He said it would weigh on their consciences if the sample was later tested and matched to Rivers.
Deleston also couldn’t have known, Pennington said, that Rivers would take such an extreme measure and shoot the innocent young man.
But in a letter to Lion’s mother that he wrote at the end of his police interview, Deleston’s own words were too damning.
He wrote that he had been there when Lion was shot, but that the other suspects were “pointing their hands at me because they don’t like me.”
He apologized to Paige for what happened and acknowledged that his letter wouldn’t bring back her son.
But he was resolute in deflecting blame.
“I didn’t do it,” he wrote. “I could have stopped it, but it went too far.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.