BEDFORD – A man who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of Stephanie Waters appeared in a Bedford County courtroom on Friday and told Judge Travis Livengood that he wants to withdraw that guilty plea.
Ryan James Hardwick, 20, formerly of Martinsburg and now of SCI-Rockview, said during a resentencing hearing that he believes he’s not guilty of first-degree murder because he didn’t fire the shots that killed Waters and didn’t know Deauntaye Moye planned to fire those shots.
On January 8, 2015, Hardwick and Moye arranged to buy marijuana from one Benjamin Holsinger, but Holsinger sent Waters, his girlfriend, to complete the transaction in his stead. After Waters met with Moye and Hardwick, drove them to the parking lot of a Woodbury Township community center and handed over the marijuana, Moye shot the 21-year-old woman twice. Hardwick then shot and killed Waters’ dog, Duke.
Moye and Hardwick then drove around the Altoona area, smoking the stolen marijuana, while Waters died in the back seat. After she died, they left the car, with her body inside, in the driveway of an abandoned house in South Woodbury Township. Hardwick was 15 at the time; Moye was 16.
Just under three years ago, on Oct. 11, 2016, Livengood sentenced Hardwick to 60 years to life in prison after he entered a guilty plea to first-degree murder and eight other charges. A few months later, in December of 2016, Livengood sentenced Moye to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
However, a Pennsylvania Superior Court panel ruled in October of 2017 that the Bedford County Court of Common Pleas must reconsider Moye’s sentence, citing a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that sentences of life without parole should only be given to juvenile offenders “whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility, irreparable corruption and irretrievable depravity.” (Moye has since been resentenced to life without parole.)
Hardwick then appealed his sentence of 60 years to life on the grounds that it constituted an illegal de facto sentence of life without parole, and a Superior Court panel vacated the sentence in April of 2018 and sent it back to Bedford County for reconsideration. That ruling led to Friday's hearing.
Sally Harr, Waters’ mother, told Hardwick and the court on Friday that the extended nature of the court proceedings for Hardwick and Moye means that any progress she makes in moving on from her daughter’s murder is repeatedly undone. She said she prays that Livengood reimposes Hardwick's original 60-years-to-life sentence.
“My life since that morning has been sheer hell,” she said, “and every time I walk into this courtroom to face you and Moye is an agonizing hell. It undoes all my progress. ... Ryan Hardwick, I forgive you, but just because I forgive you doesn’t mean you don’t deserve what you’re getting."
Much of Friday’s hearing was taken up by testimony from Dr. Alice Applegate, a Pittsburgh-area forensic psychologist who interviewed Hardwick in prison in October of 2018, conducted a battery of psychological tests on him and produced a 51-page report in which she concluded that he suffers from avoidant personality disorder, paranoid and dependent personality features, generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Applegate testified that 15-year-old Hardwick was a naive, passive, submissive person – a “follower,” as she put it – who came from an abusive home, whose relationship with his father was “a failure” and who was “an easy target for Moye’s dominant personality.” She suggested that Hardwick came to see the older Moye as a surrogate father, pointing out in a court transcript an apparent Freudian slip in which he referred to Moye as “Dad.”
“Ryan was unable to, one, assert himself with Moye and, two, to recognize that Moye’s motives were different than his motives,” Applegate said. “Moye talked about wanting to murder. … Ryan thought it was just talk.”
While the psychologist said that Hardwick needs to be in psychotherapy for "a long, long, long time" to work through his personality issues and that she believes "a lengthy prison sentence is appropriate," she maintained that he can be rehabilitated and that he is making progress toward that goal.
During cross-examination, Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts pointed out that many of Applegate’s conclusions about Hardwick’s personality were based on information provided by Hardwick himself.
Hardwick himself then took the stand, dressed in a orange prison uniform and sporting a wispy goatee and full-sleeve tattoos. In response to questions from his attorney, Mark Zearfaus, he acknowledged participating in the crime "after the fact," but maintained that he didn’t know Moye planned to shoot Waters. He also claimed that, until the day of his plea, he thought he was going to be permitted to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.
When Zearfaus asked Hardwick whether he felt remorse for Waters’ murder, he said that he did, but then pivoted into a complaint that Waters’ friends and relatives apparently hadn’t accepted that remorse.
“From the beginning, I always had remorse,” he said, “but it was met with stone faces every time I walked into the courtroom. ... That day, everyone involved lost a piece of themselves. It wasn't just one person."
When Zearfaus asked Hardwick if he had anything else to say before stepping down from the stand, Hardwick looked directly at Waters’ family and said, “You guys aren’t the only ones affected, who feel anxiety, who don’t want to go home at night. A lot of people feel that way – especially me.”
Livengood did not make any decisions on Friday about whether to allow Hardwick to withdraw his guilty plea or about what sentence to impose, but he did order both attorneys to produce sentencing memoranda within 60 days.