Man who sold drugs that killed a Penn State student receives prison sentence

Mark “Short Rico” Grover
Mark “Short Rico” Grover

The man who pleaded guilty to selling the drugs that killed a 19-year-old Penn State student was sentenced Friday to at least 7 1/2 years in prison.

Penn State police said Mark “Short Rico” Grover, 26, rode from Pittsburgh to State College in January and sold heroin and methamphetamine to health policy and administration student and Alpha Tau Omega brother William Denton.

Denton’s parents Tali and Van read a statement to Judge Jonathan Grine, who also considered letters from Denton’s brother Tal, two aunts, an uncle, two of his best friends from school and Penn State Health Policy and Administration professor Diane Spokus prior to sentencing.

“You took other’s suffering whenever you could. You felt into their loss, their struggle, their weakness, their worry and their pain,” Tali wrote. “My life is forever empty without you in it, William. I must now find a way each day to live in the absence of your love and your goodness.”

DentonVigil 5 USE FIRST
Tali Denton gets a hug from her son’s fraternity brothers after a vigil Alpha Tau Omega organized to remember Will Denton on Jan. 18, 2018. Abby Drey

Van said the loss of his son was the hardest thing he’s faced as a father because “all the potential, all the possibilities (were) extinguished.”

“All of our family have big holes in our lives now that can never be filled,” Van wrote. “Will’s spirit and love provided a great light in the lives of myself, his mother and his brother. He rarely walked out of the house without turning to us and saying ‘I love you.’ Being loved by Will was an amazing gift.”

In a sentencing memo sent to Grine, Deputy District Attorney Sean McGraw said Grover exploited one of Pennsylvania’s worst health crises for financial gain.

Assistant Public Defender Patrick McAreavy, meanwhile, told Grine that Grover agreed to the plea deal because the trial could be embarrassing for Denton and he has “no wish to tarnish Mr. Denton’s good name nor his memory to Mr. Denton’s family and friends.”

McAreavy also outlined Grover’s past in his sentencing memo to Grine. He said Grover’s father abandoned him, while his mother has severe mental illness.

“Mr. Grover, despite the hand he was dealt at birth, has worked hard to learn and earn his way to a steady life and a better lifestyle,” McAreavy wrote. “Mr. Grover has the skills and desire to become a contributing member of society.”

In a letter to Denton’s parents, Grover apologized and said he wanted to explain his mental and physical state in the week leading up to Denton’s death.

“Exactly a week before his passing, my best friend who was like a brother to me, had been shot and murdered in Pittsburgh. William was there for me through it all,” Grover wrote.

His friend’s death led to another struggle with addiction — though McGraw doesn’t believe that — and that’s when Denton invited him to his Penn State dorm room.

“I was trying to get us both to sort of slow our drug usage, but I wasn’t that strong enough mentally to say no because I was going through a lot at the time and I just wanted to numb the pain and take my mind off how my life was going,” Grover wrote.

Grover’s maximum sentence is 19 years and he must also make restitution of $9,553.90 for Denton’s funeral expenses. He received 260 days credit for time served in the Centre County Correctional Facility.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.