Lenny R. Ross Jr.

Lenny R. Ross Jr., 29, of Pleasantville

MAYS LANDING — A Pleasantville man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing a Somers Point man in 2011, after a motion to rescind his plea was denied Friday.

Steven Gurss Jr., 28, was shot once in the head Christmas Eve 2011, outside Pleasantville's Marina del Rey apartments. He died the next day.

This January, Lenny R. Ross Jr., 31, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter, saying Gurss was supposed to pay him $225 for heroin but instead fled in his truck without paying. He said Gurss almost ran him over as he drove away, so Ross pulled out his gun and shot once.

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"You killed Steve for $225," Gurss' father, Steven Sr., said in court Friday. "$225. You're a joke."

But Ross said Friday he didn't kill Gurss, who he called a "great man," and that he only took the plea deal to spare his girlfriend, Teonka Williams, 28, who pleaded guilty to hindering apprehension in exchange for no jail time.

Ross said he tried to take back the plea because he wanted to give the family closure.

"Not fake closure," he said, insisting he was not the killer.

Superior Court Judge Michael Donio agreed that Ross' plea was not fully accurate, because the autopsy indicated Gurss was shot at "point-blank range."

The bullet entered the left side of the victim's head, taking a slightly backward path, and coming out the right side. That, Donio said, indicates the shooter was standing next to the Gurss, not shooting at him as he fled.

"If that's the case, the defendant pleading to aggravated manslaughter means he got away with murder," the judge said.

Francine Gurss Kelly said, as a nurse, people often asked her what their loved one's last moments were like. She said she never thought she would be wondering the same thing about her own son.

"I saw the entrance wound and the exit wound," she said of the gunshot to her son's head. "I saw it when I walked into the hospital and he was on life support."

"He not only took Steve's life, he took a part of mine," Steven Gurss Sr. said. "My grandson will never have a relationship with my son."

Ross said he also won't know the youngest of his three sons, who was born after he went to jail.

"Your son didn't deserve to die like that," he said, facing the family as he spoke. "But I can't be sorry for something I didn't do."

If convicted at trial, Ross could have faced life in prison, since his record makes him eligible for an extended term. But, as part of the plea deal, the state agreed not to seek more than 30 years.

Ross must serve 85 percent of that sentence, or 25.5 years. With 614 days credit, Ross could be free by the time he turns 55.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Wilson said he will appeal the judge's decision.

Contact Lynda Cohen:


@LyndaCohen on Twitter

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