Jury gives death penalty in case of slain rapper

Jakeem Towles

A Lancaster man sentenced to death for fatally shooting a local hip-hop musician in 2010 was at Lancaster County Courthouse Monday, attempting to convince the court that his case deserves another trial.

Jakeem Towles, 28, claimed his trial lawyers were ineffective in a Post Conviction Relief Act hearing held before Judge Howard Knisely.

Towles was convicted of killing Cornell “Young E-Z” Stewart, 20, following a performance at a Columbia fire hall in May of 2010 and was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death in 2012.

In court filings, Towles has questioned whether his trial attorneys — Samuel Encarnacion and Patricia Spotts — erred in certain elements of the trial including his own ability to testify, his attorney's handling of certain evidence and witnesses; and for failing to object to the striking of two jurors based on gender. He has also called his death sentence unconstitutional. 

Encarnacion, Spotts and Towles all testified about the case Monday.

Forensic psychologist Gerald Cooke, who diagnosed Towles with a personality disorder with antisocial and paranoid features, and a witness to the shooting, Robert Sanders, also testified.

Knisely is expected to make a ruling on the case in the coming months after attorney briefings are filed.

Towles is on death row at State Correctional Institution-Greene in Waynesburg, which is about 52 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed Towles' death sentence in 2014, finding Towles acted with malice and specific intent to kill when he opened fire on Stewart and others following a fight inside the building minutes earlier.

Eight Lancaster County residents are currently on death row. No one has been executed in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015, calling the system “error-prone, expensive and anything but infallible.”