Nearly six years after a Bristol Township machinist was gunned down in a botched drug buy and robbery, police are ready to charge a Philadelphia man with murder, authorities said Monday.
Ckaron Handy, 24, thought the victim might be an undercover police officer, because he didn’t recognize Kevin Battista, 30, in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Lower Bucks County, authorities said.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Handy, who will be formally charged once in Bucks County custody, county District Attorney David Heckler said at a news conference with township police.
“It’s important to make a public fuss” about a case “that goes back over a long period of time … to confront and stop the lawlessness of the streets of Bristol Township,” Heckler said.
One of the witnesses in the case, Michael Brooks, is a convicted drug dealer charged with a 2007 murder in the township’s Bloomberg-Fleetwing section.
And James Williams, who witnesses said was with Handy at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty last year to killing an armed robber on those streets.
Handy was a suspect in the case within weeks of the Dec. 7, 2006 shooting, and has been in jail or prison most of the time since on drug and firearms charges, Detective Tim Fuhrmann said.
Police held off charging Handy until now “to follow up on leads, and for strategy decisions,” said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Schorn, who will prosecute the case.
Handy, who lived and “did business” in Bucks, faces a lifetime in prison on criminal homicide, robbery, conspiracy and firearms charges, Heckler said. He has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
The victim was a union laborer, the father of two boys, and a recreational drug user who drove into the Bloomsdale-Fleetwing section of the township about 2 that morning, “looking for cocaine,” Schorn said.
Battista had never been to neighborhood and was “naïve” about the mean streets of Bloomsdale, Schorn said. His friend, Tiffany Calvanese, “struggled with addiction” and suggested the spot to buy drugs, Heckler said.
On their way, Battista thought he saw his former girlfriend, Danielle Frenier, in a car and followed it into Fleetwing section of Bloomsdale, Calvanese told police.
He stopped his red pickup truck to ask several men, including Handy, about buying drugs, “but they were reluctant to deal with Battista because they didn’t know him,” Heckler said. “They thought he might be an undercover narcotics officer.”
Battista drove around the block and stopped again, asking the men to buy $60 worth of drugs, Calvanese told police.
“Give me your money,” they responded, and Battista started to drive away when shots were fired, she said.
Battista fell onto Calvanese, who tried to steer the pickup truck but crashed into a parked car, she said.
He was taken to Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, now known as Aria Health's Torresdale campus, where he died from a shot through his shoulder blade that pierced his aorta, according to the police report.
Police have been building their case ever since, dealing with “less-than-cooperative witnesses, many whom were under investigation for other crimes,” Heckler said.
The case went before a grand jury, which issued a presentment in August 2010, Schorn said.
Handy, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to drug charges in September 2007 and was in prison. Shortly after getting out on parole, he was charged with illegally possessing and firing a gun and has been in federal custody since, police said.
“We keep chipping away at taking people off the streets, to make it a much safer community than it was then,” Heckler said. “When someone commits murder in Bucks County, we won’t forget it.”
In March, 20 surveillance cameras were installed in the neighborhood, funded by a $400,000 federal grant. Since then, crime there has dropped 50 percent, police Chief James McAndrew said.
“Those monitoring cameras would have put us in a better posiiton to prosecute this case,” Heckler said.