Teenager accused of murder charged as adult, rejects plea deal

Teenager Masiyah Howard appeared in adult court today to hear that he can get out of prison at age 65 if he pleads guilty now to a 2013 killing that caused racial strife in Chambersburg.

Assistant Mercer County Prosecutor Lew Korngut made the 52-year offer to Howard for pleas to aggravated manslaughter, robbery and weapons offenses for the gunshot killing of Louis Bryan Alvarez on Feb. 26 of last year.

Howard was 17 at the time, but a judge ruled him eligible for trial as an adult after authorities brought out that in addition to the murder, he allegedly had been in on the armed robbery of a Chambersburg bodega a few weeks before the slaying.

Alvarez, who was 25 at the time of his death, was a native of Guatemala who worked in Trenton. He reportedly answered the door of his home on Fulton Street and was confronted by Howard, who lived around the corner on Emory Avenue.

Police said they exchanged words until Alvarez slammed the door and Howard allegedly pulled a handgun and shot through the glass door.

Hit in the torso by the sole bullet fired, Alvarez was found dead in the house soon after by cops and medics. Howard told cops Alvarez owed him money, but the victim’s family said they knew of no connection between the pair.

Howard was arrested on March 12 of last year and was charged with the Alvarez murder as he sat in Mercer County jail on charges of taking part in the earlier armed bodega heist.

In the hearing Monday, before Mercer Superior Court Judge Robert Billmeier, Korngut said the state case was strong, disclosing that one of the suspect’s accomplices in the robbery had fingered him as the killer and that a jailhouse informant said Howard admitted the deadly shooting to him.

In addition to the usual problems with getting accomplices to testify against cohorts in court, Korngut noted that like many other major cases from those years, the main detective was Trenton’s Edgar Rios, who was shot and nearly killed a year ago, and recently announced his retirement.

But even defense lawyer Steve Lember said the prosecution won’t need Rios to present its case. The attorney said what the witnesses have to say, and his cross examination of them, will be the key factor at trial.

Lember said his client, whose mother was in the audience, would not accept the plea offer made by Korngut, which was 25 years for murder, 15 more for robbery and seven more for the weapons charges. Lember said he was ready to go to trial.

Being held on a total of $800,000 bail, Howard appeared in court in shackles and an orange prison jumpsuit. His face remained expressionless through the proceedings.

The bodega heist and Alvarez slaying were among a spate of crimes against Latinos, particularly Guatemalan immigrants, which caused ethnic strife and prompted civic leaders to step in and call for calm.

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