Most courthouses come with a fair share of human suffering.
Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center has woe to spare: families of victims, families of defendants, often packed into wooden pews just feet from each other.
That’s the way it was Tuesday. Six floors apart: two cases, two mothers, each struggling to cope with the consequences of a daughter’s relationships with “bad men.”
One mother lost her daughter to a gun, fired by an older boyfriend who could not deal with the ending of their eight-year relationship. The other may lose her daughter to prison if she is found guilty of robbing a jewelry store robbery with her boyfriend, the father of the four-year-old boy they took with them on the job.
Crystal Stubbs found herself in the most uncomfortable of spots: a prosecution witness testifying at the trial of her 32-year-old daughter Sheakia, charged with boyfriend John Benson, 48, with the 2010 robbery of a South Street jewelry store.
According to prosecution witnesses, the couple took more than $70,000 worth of rings out of Yaniv Cohen’s “Platinum & Ice” store on Feb. 27, 2010. The jewelry was never recovered. Unfortunately for Stubbs and Benson, prosecutors allege that he slashed Cohen’s throat after the jeweler pursued him and then panicked and left the couple’s four-year-old son, Simir, on the sidewalk with Cohen and fled.
Crystal Stubbs did not appear too pleased with Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb for calling her as a witness. Then again, she also seemed to glare regularly at her daughter and at Benson, who she said knew as “Marcielle Young.”
Stubbs said daughter and Benson showed up at her house about 10 p.m. on Feb. 27, 2010, telling her she had to get identification papers and go retrieve their son from the police.
“They didn’t say nothing about no robbery,” Stubbs told the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury. “They just said the cops had the baby.”
She said she got even more annoyed when she and her daughter and Benson got into a cab to go to the South Philadelphia police station where Simir was only to have Benson order the cab to turn around as they neared the station house.
“He kept hunching her, saying ‘We’re not going,’” Stubbs said, describing the way she said Benson elbowed her daughter in the ribs in the cab.
Crystal Stubbs said she is on disability and did not have the money to call a cab to retrieve her grandson: “I was not in my right state of mind. I was crying. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Simir wound up in foster care for seven months before being released into the custody on Stubb’s son and Sheakia’s brother.
Six floors above, the wailing of Pamelarn Austin could be heard in court through the door after she testified at the murder trial of Edward Wilson, 57, accused of killing 26-year-old Antoinette Austin on March 18, 2009.
Wilson allegedly killed Austin after he suffered a debilitating stroke and walked out of their West Philadelphia house after eight years. Wilson then went back to his house and, cornered by police, shot himself in the face with a shotgun. He lived, though his face was obliterated in the blast.
Pamelarn broke down while telling the Common Pleas Court jury about identifying her daughter’s body.
She also told the jury of her frosty relationship with Wilson, who never visited her with her daughter and only once had her to his house.
“I didn’t go over there [Wilson’s house] often at all,” Austin told the jury. “I think I was there once.”
Austin said her daughter would visit on holidays, but never with Wilson.