Defense lawyer Jack McMahon stood in front of a panel of Philadelphia jurors last Thursday doing his best to convince them to spare the life of his client, Shaun Warrick.
A day earlier, the 32-year-old Warrick had been found guilty by the same jury of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2011 Valentine’s Day shootings of his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Barnhill, and her cousin, Marcedes Ivery.
Because the District Attorney’s office designated it a “capital” case, the trial had moved to a penalty-phase hearing for the jury to decide if Warrick should be sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson doesn't like to waste time. So, when court officials announced that all city courts would be closed Wednesday, Sept. 23 through Monday, Sept. 28 to accommodate the visit of Pope Francis, Bronson saw the opportunity to salvage two days of jury selection for the murder trial of the demolition contractor in the deadly 2013 building collapse that buried a Salvation Army thrift store.
On Wednesday, Bronson told prosecutors and the defense lawyer for contractor Griffin Campbell he's decided to begin jury selection on Tuesday, Sept. 29. In addition to the logistical problems of starting jury selection and then stopping and resuming the process five days later, the judge said he was concerned that a two-defendant murder trial he starts Sept. 15 could spill over into the following week. Bronson said the city jury commissioner has assured him that two 100-person panels of prospective jurors will be available to him when jury selection in the collapse case begins Sept. 29.
Campbell, 51, is charged with six counts of third-degree murder, 12 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of aggravated assault for those killed and injured on June 5, 2013 when an unsupported three-story wall of a building his workers were demolishing toppled over and crushed the Salvation Army store at 22d and Market Streets. If convicted of two or more counts of third-degree murder, Campbell could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Friday’s guilty verdict for Aaron Fitzpatrick – the 22-year-old South Philadelphia man a Philadelphia jury found shot and killed his girlfriend, Tiffany Gillespie, 24, after she told him she was pregnant with his child -- confused some readers.
Not the first-degree murder verdict for killing Gillespie. Readers and the jury seemed to have no problem accepting Fitzpatrick’s confession to homicide detectives, his DNA on the .38-caliber revolver that fired the shot that killed Gillespie and her blood on his clothing. Gillespie was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
It was that second verdict for the murder of an unborn child – Gillespie’s five-month-old fetus, which died shortly after Gillespie was shot in the head – that threw some readers. Why aren’t women who obtain abortions and those involved in the procedure charged with murder as well?
A reader had a question about last week’s trial of Thomas Coffee, who a Philadelphia jury found guilty of first-degree murder on Aug. 4 for the 2013 shooting of a South Jersey man lured to an armed robbery by Coffee’s ad on the Craigslist Internet marketplace to trade for an all-terrain vehicle.
The question was about another of Coffee’s victim, Ben Booker, who was robbed of four guns and his Lexus on June 8, 2013 when he responded to Coffee’s Craigslist ad to trade guns for a motorcycle.
Why, the reader asked, wasn’t Booker charged with illegally trafficking in firearms? The reader also attached a backgrounder from the National Rifle Association advising that the only legal way for a Pennsylvania gun owner to sell or transfer a weapon to another gun owner is by using a registered gun dealer or a county sheriff’s office as the broker or intermediary. Both will do an instant records check on the prospective purchaser.
It didn’t take long.
It was only Thursday, July 30, when the defense lawyer for accused Craigslist killer Thomas Coffee subpoenaed disgraced Philadelphia homicide detective Ron Dove to testify hoping to tarnish the integrity of the prosecution’s case.
It was a long shot and Coffee was found guilty on Tuesday and sentenced to life in prison without parole. On Thursday, another defense lawyer in again invoked the name of Dove – if not his back-story – in an attempt to cloud the prosecution’s case against a South Philadelphia man accused of shooting to death his pregnant girlfriend.
The play sometimes gets rough in the courtroom and sometimes a lawyer's verbal shot lands south of the belt.
Maybe that's what happened Wednesday to veteran Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Nino V. Tinari, one of the lawyers defending former city Common Pleas Court Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. against criminal conflict of interest charges brought by state prosecutors.
Questioning prosecution witness Eric Eklund, an agent for the state Attorney General's office, Tinari asked in faux innocence about his employer: "That means you work for Kathleen Kane?"
It seems a guilty plea could be in the works for Sean Benschop, the operator of the excavator the morning of June 5, 2013 when an unsupported three-story brick wall toppled onto the roof of a Salvation Army thrift store in Center City, killing six and injuring 13.
Philadelphia court records show that Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson has set a hearing for Tuesday for a possible guilty plea by Benschop, 43, in the deadly collapse.
Benschop's attorney William Davis, could not immediately be reached for comment; neither could the prosecutors handling the case, Assistant District Atttorneys Edward Cameron and Jennifer Selber.
The question of whether convicted Catholic Church official Msgr. William J. Lynn could be in the audience when Pope Francis visits Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility Sept. 26-27 during the church’s World Meeting of Families has been answered.
State prison officials on Tuesday confirmed that the 64-year-old Lynn -- the first church official convicted for a supervisory role over priests accused of or found to have sexually abused children – was taken from Curran-Fromhold and returned July 8 to the state prison at Waymart in Northeastern Pennsylvania.