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Pa. Teen Appeals Prison Sentence for Murdering Friend and Taking a Smiling Selfie with His Body

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A Pennsylvania teen is appealing his murder conviction and prison sentence for killing a friend two years ago — after which he took a selfie with his victim that was a key piece of evidence against him.

Maxwell Morton, 19, was tried as an adult and convicted in February of third-degree murder in the shooting death of Ryan Mangan. The two were both 16 in February 2015, when Morton fatally shot Mangan in Mangan’s bedroom in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, before fleeing the scene with the gun.

Before he left, Morton took a photo with Mangan, who was slumped over and bleeding in the background as Morton smiled in front of him.

A medical expert testified at Morton’s trial that Mangan may have not have immediately died from the gunshot, and prosecutors argued that he could have been saved if Morton had called for help.

Mangan’s mother discovered his body when she got home from work.

In May, Morton was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison. Prosecutors had sought to convict him for first-degree murder, but jurors found him guilty on the lesser charge of third-degree murder.

Morton’s defense attorney, Patrick Thomassey, previously told PEOPLE he planned to appeal the conviction and sentence. He has repeatedly maintained that the shooting was a tragic accident while the pair played with the gun.

Ryan Mangan

Thomassey ascribed Morton’s actions in the immediate aftermath to those of a scared and scrambled teenage boy, while prosecutors cast him as callous.

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t think Max intended to take a life,” Thomassey told PEOPLE in February. “They were playing a silly game.”

Morton testified in his own defense at trial, reportedly explaining, “I panicked. … I wanted to tell somebody, but at that time I felt empty and had no regards for life. I had no reason to be.”

According to a Westmoreland County court official, both Thomassey and prosecutors sought a reconsideration of Morton’s May sentence: The former because he thought it was too high, the latter because they thought it was too low.

The court official tells PEOPLE the judge in Morton’s case denied both motions on May 31. But on Monday, Thomassey appealed that decision to the state’s superior court, according to TribLive. (Thomassey has not officially filed his notice to appeal beyond the trial judge, the court official says.)

A timeline for the appeal was not immediately clear, though it could take months, according to the court official. Prosecutors declined to comment to PEOPLE, citing Morton’s appeal. Thomassey did not immediately return a message on Tuesday.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck previously described the shooting as “extremely egregious and reprehensible.”

Morton “left this young man to die,” he told PEOPLE, noting that Mangan’s parents were disappointed with the jury’s verdict.

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Maxwell Morton
Westmoreland County Jail

At his sentencing on May 15, Morton said he had looked up to Mangan as a friend. (Mangan’s parents dispute how close they really were.)

“I wish I could change,” Morton told the court. “I wish I could go back in time and wish for none of this to happen. But sorry is what I have to give.”

In handing down her ruling, Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio said Morton seemed “like a little boy,” but she said she was concerned about whether or not he valued human life.

“The reality is this case would be very different, it would be a totally different case, but for that photo — but for the fact that you didn’t make the phone call,” she said. “I don’t think anyone will ever understand your thought process in taking that photo. I know I won’t.”