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Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Maxwell Morton "Selfie" Murder Case

     Maxwell Marion Morton, a 16-year-old high school student, lived in the western Pennsylvania town of Jeanette, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He played on the football team and had never been in trouble with the law. One of Morton's friends, Ryan Mangan, also a junior at Jeanette High School, worked at McDonald's in the nearby Hempfield Plaza.

     Ryan Mangan's mother, in their home on Rankin Avenue in Jeanette, discovered her son's dead body. Ryan had been shot in the face at close range. She called 911.

     Not long after Ryan Mangan had been shot to death, Maxwell Morton, using Snapchat, an application for Smartphones that allows the user to send photographs that disappear from the recipient's phone within seconds, sent a most disturbing "selfie" to a male friend. The photograph, captioned "Maxwell," depicted a close-up of Morton's face with his friend Ryan sitting behind him in a chair. To even the most casual observer it was obvious that Ryan Mangan had been killed by being shot in the face.

     The friend who received this macabre and bizarre message saved the photograph before it automatically vanished. The boy showed the picture to his mother who immediately called the police.

     Homicide investigators couldn't believe that a kid had taken a photograph of himself with the boy he had presumably shot to death, then sent the picture to a friend. Did he think his friend would keep the murder a secret? Was he bragging? Did he want to get caught?

      Maxwell Morton had also texted his friend a couple of incriminating messages pertaining to the photograph of the murdered boy. One read: "Told you I cleaned up the shells." The other: "Ryan was not the last one." What did that mean? Was this kid planning to murder others?

     Police officers took Maxwell Morton into custody and booked him into the Westmoreland County Juvenile Detention Center on suspicion of murder.

     In the homicide victim's bedroom, detectives found a 9mm shell casing.

     On Friday February 6, 2015, in a search of the suspect's home, detectives found a 9mm handgun hidden beneath the basement stairs. Confronted with the selfie and the gun, Morton confessed to killing his friend.

     At his arraignment hearing that Friday, a local prosecutor charged Maxwell Morton, as an adult, with first-degree murder as well as several lesser offenses. The judge denied him bail.

     In February 2017, a Westmoreland County jury found Maxwell Morton guilty of third-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing in May 2017 before Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-FeFazio, Morton conceded that his selfie shooting was "messed up." The judge sentenced him to 15 to 30 years in prison.

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