With victim in wheelchair, shooter gets 30 to 60 years

Accompanied by his father , Joe , Kevin Neary arrives at the Criminal Justice Center for the sentencing. APRIL SAUL / Staff
Accompanied by his father , Joe , Kevin Neary arrives at the Criminal Justice Center for the sentencing. APRIL SAUL / Staff
Posted: September 13, 2012

After three hours of testimony that left even the defense attorney moved to the brink of tears, Christopher Easton, 21, a high school dropout from Northern Liberties, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for the attempted murder of Kevin Neary, a self-employed businessman who lived in the neighborhood.

Neary, 29, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, was walking home Nov. 15 after a night out with friends when he was mugged on Bodine Street within view of his front door.

According to Assistant District Attorney Erin Boyle, Easton lifted his shirt and showed Neary a gun tucked into his pants, then asked him for his money.

After Neary refused to hand Easton his wallet, which contained only $16, Boyle said, Easton took out the gun, pointed it at Neary, and said, "I'm not playing."

"When Kevin didn't want to give the defendant his money," Boyle said, "what the defendant decided to do - because he disrespected him - was shoot him in the neck." Boyle described how, after "running like a coward," and "heartlessly" leaving Neary bleeding on the sidewalk, Easton burned his clothes, sold the gun, and hid at a friend's house.

During the sentencing hearing, which began at 11:30 a.m., Neary's father, brothers, uncle, aunt, and friends spoke of his extraordinary spirit, warmth, and generosity. They repeatedly broke down sobbing.

Neary, who cannot breathe without mechanical assistance, spoke for nearly an hour about life as a quadriplegic, his fragile health, and the relentless demands on his caretakers. He was accompanied by a nurse who held up his written statement for him to read, helped adjust his wheelchair, and managed his ventilator.

"My poor father," Neary said. "He was supposed to have a glorious retirement. . . . I feel bad for him."

But Neary still managed to elicit laughs from the packed courtroom with remarks about the foul-tasting medicine he has had to take, his undying adoration for the Phillies, and his father's broken promises to stay in shape.

"I wish you'd get to the gym more, like you said you would!" he said.

Easton's defense attorney, Richard DeSipio, said he had trouble knowing what to say in his closing remarks because the situation was so tragic. "The only thing I could think of was nature versus nurture," DeSipio said. He described Easton's troubled home life, concluding, "He's not a monster."

"This was a particularly gruesome shooting, and the results are just terrible," Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Minehart said before handing down his ruling. If Easton had not pleaded guilty, he would have faced a maximum 41 to 81 years. With virtually no chance of parole, Minehart said, Easton would likely have left prison "in a pine box."

But when he decided at the last minute, just before jury selection Tuesday, to admit his guilt, the guidelines allowed for some leniency.

Easton, who has grown a pointy goatee and looks much thinner than in his mug shot, was swimming in the charcoal button-down shirt and jeans that had been lent to him by the court. He sat silently throughout the proceedings, nervously biting his lip and looking in the direction of the witnesses without emotion.

When he stood to speak, his voice was barely audible. "I apologize," he said. "You probably don't believe me, but I truly apologize for what I've done."

Contact Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

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