According to the Associated Press, Maxwell Morton, 18, was convicted of third-degree murder in the shooting of Ryan Mangan, 16, in February 2015

By Alexia Fernandez Adam Carlson
February 18, 2017 01:08 AM
Westmoreland County Jail

A Pennsylvania teen who police say shot his friend and then posed for a selfie with the dying teen was convicted on Thursday of a less serious charge.

According to the Associated Press, Maxwell Morton, 18, was found guilty of third-degree murder in the shooting of 16-year-old Ryan Mangan in February 2015.

Morton testified at trial that the two were playing with a handgun and he thought it was unloaded when he pointed it at Mangan and pulled the trigger, the AP reports.

Morton said he wanted to kill himself and took the selfie to document what happened, the report continues.

“I panicked. I had never seen anything like that before. I had never seen someone die like that. At first I ran out, then ran back in there and saw him lying there,” Morton said, according to TribLive. “I wanted to tell somebody, but at that time I felt empty and had no regards for life. I had no reason to be.”

Prosecutors said medical evidence showed Mangan could have been saved after being shot, had Morton acted differently, according to TribLive. However, the jury rejected the argument that Morton deliberately killed Mangan, the site reports. (Third-degree murder involves malice but not premeditation.)

The Mangan family declined to comment to PEOPLE, but Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck says he is “certain of their disappointment at the verdict,” describing their wrenching experience listening to testimony about their son’s death.

Peck says Morton’s crime “was extremely egregious and reprehensible. [He] left this young man to die.”

He says he’s “satisfied” with the jury’s verdict, though he sought a first-degree murder conviction, and believes some jurors sympathized with Morton because of his age.

Morton’s defense attorney, Pat Thomassey, tells PEOPLE, “In my heart of hearts, I don’t think Max intended to take a life. They were playing a silly game.”

Thomassey acknowledged the seemingly callous nature of Morton’s actions after Mangan was shot — smiling in the photo he took with his friend after he was shot — but argued the events were a series of “devastating errors.”

He says, “I really believe that if [Morton] hadn’t done what he had done afterward, with the photo and all that, and had called the police and said, ‘Look this is what we were doing, this is what happened,’ essentially what he testified to on the witness stand, I don’t know if he would have been charged.”

“This was a friend of his,” Thomassey says of Morton, adding, “It’s hard to explain what he did afterward.”

“These kids, they don’t have a sense of reality,” he says.

Peck disputes the persuasiveness of Morton’s testimony at trial, explaining his actions, and points to other bizarre behavior such as Morton sending a friend a news story about the fatal shooting the next day.

A detective testified at Morton’s trial that the teen “had a little smirk on his face” when he talked about the shooting during a police interview, according to WTAE.

Morton’s lesser conviction spares him from a life sentence in prison, although he was also found guilty of possession of a weapon and was returned to the Westmoreland County Prison in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where he is being held without bond, according to TribLive.

Morton will be sentenced within 90 days and faces up to 40 years in prison, according to the AP. Thomassey says he will seek a term of around nine years.

Of Morton, he says, “He just feels so bad for the Mangan family.”

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