Manson Echo in Philly Teen Murder Case

ByABC News via via logo

June 25, 2003 -- Before the night he was beaten to death, all seemed to be going well for 16-year-old Jason Sweeney. He had a new girlfriend, and he was excited about it.

"The night before they killed him, he and I had sat there talking, and he said, 'Mom, I'm dating this girl, and I've been dating her for a couple of weeks, and she's really nice,' " Dawn Sweeney, Jason's mother, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "I think you'll really like her."

But his mother never met 15-year-old Justina Morley, who police say was the teenage temptress involved in the slaying of her son.

On the night of May 30, Morley lured Jason Sweeney to a wooded area called "the Trails" near the Delaware River in Philadelphia, promising to have sex with him, police said.

But once there, Sweeney was beaten to death, struck almost a dozen times with a hammer, a hatchet and a rock, police said. The killers broke all but one bone in Sweeney's face.

Acting on a tip, police arrested Morley and two brothers, Dominic and Nicholas Coia, ages 18 and 16, respectively, in the beating death. Also arrested in the beating was 16-year-old Edward Batzig Jr., Sweeney's best friend. All four are charged with first-degree murder.

‘Helter Skelter,’ Part 2?

The teens are accused of plotting the attack on their friend for at least a week. Police say that prior to the slaying, they listened to the Beatles' song "Helter Skelter" 42 times to pump themselves up for the violent frenzy that followed.

The mass murderer Charles Manson listened to the same song before he and his followers launched a killing spree in the summer of 1969.

The four teens shared a group hug after killing Sweeney, according to transcripts of testimony in a court hearing. They are accused of stealing and splitting the victim's $500 paycheck and spending it on drugs.

"The brutality of this case is really beyond the spoken word," said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Judy Conroy. "The injuries, and the extent of the injuries, and the amount of force necessary to inflict those injuries, is unspeakable."

All four teens are being charged as adults. If convicted, they could face the death penalty, with the exception of Morley, who is exempt because she is under 16.

‘We Partied Beyond Redemption’

Police say that Batzig and Dominic Coia have confessed to the killings.

"We took Sweeney's wallet out and split up the money, and we partied beyond redemption," Dominic Coia allegedly told police in his confession.

But a detective testified that when Dominic Coia was asked if he was high on drugs during the killing, he said this in his confession: "No, I was sober as I am now. It's sick, isn't it?"

For the Sweeney family, the sudden loss of Jason was stunning.

"It's literally a moment-to-moment thing," Dawn Sweeney said. "We all just miss him so much. It was just a horrifying shock."

‘They Knew Jason’

The Sweeneys lived in Fishtown, a blue-collar section of Philadelphia. Dawn Sweeney works as a bank teller. Her husband, Paul, runs a small construction company, where Jason had been working since dropping out of school in the 10th grade. He planned to join the Navy when he turned 17.

"Jason was just the sweetest, kindest, most gentle child in the world," Dawn Sweeney said. "He was the kid that in the school yard, if he saw someone being bullied, that he would intervene."

That is what makes it so difficult to accept the way his friends allegedly turned on him, she said.

"That's one of the hardest parts about it because they knew Jason, and they knew what kind of person he was," his mother said.

She does not believe that the four accused teens just kind of lost it and were in a crazed state of mind when the slayings occurred.

"No, no. These children, they plotted this, it was very well thought-out, right down to their alibi," Mrs. Sweeney said. "Even at the preliminary hearings, the lawyers did a sidebar and the four of them sat there smiling and laughing. It was absolutely horrifying to see this."

A Lock of Hair

Dawn Sweeney says that whatever happens to the four teens, she will never have justice.

"Because no matter what they do to these four kids, [it] is not going to bring my son back," she said.

After her son's funeral, the funeral director gave her a big lock of Jason's hair, which she put in a bag and wore around her neck.

Jason always wanted to visit New York, so Mrs. Sweeney said she planned a pilgrimage to the Empire State Building, one of the city's most famous landmarks.

"And everywhere I go, that Jason wanted to go, I'm going to cut off a piece of his hair — and leave it there," she said. "So a piece of him is there and in kind of a metaphoric way, he will have seen the Empire State Building."

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