A final no in Piazza at Schmidt's murder case

After two months of weighing his options, Caesar Holloway has rejected a guilty-plea deal from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office and will be tried for his alleged role in the 2009 drug-related killings of two people at the Piazza at Schmidts development in Northern Liberties.

Today, Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega and defense attorney Donald Chisholm II confirmed that Holloway, 35, rejected the plea offer. The two lawyers and Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart are to decide on a trial date Wednesday.

Holloway is the last of eight people charged in the June 27, 2009 slayings of event planner Rian Thal, 34, and friend Timothy Gilmore, 40, and faces life in prison without chance of parole if the jury finds him guilty of felony murder. Although not among the gunmen who killed the two in what prosecutors called a botched drug robbery, under the law of conspiracy Holloway is liable for the worst act committed by any other conspirator.

Prosecutors allege that Holloway was the right-hand man of Will “Pooh” Hook, 43, whom a jury convicted of felony murder in December as the mastermind of the drug robbery that became a double murder.

Hook also did not shoot anyone but he is now serving a mandatory life prison term with no chance of parole – the same verdict and sentences as gunmen Donnell Murchison, 35, and Edward Daniels, 44.

Seven people were arrested in the days after the June 27, 2009 slayings of Thal and Gilmore outside her sixth floor apartment in the upscale Piazza’s Navona building.

Holloway, however, was a fugitive for almost a year and thus not part of the trial that saw the jury verdicts against Hook, Murchison and Daniels and guilty pleas of four others.

Holloway’s wavering about whether to plead guilty has prevented the sentencings of three of the four who pleaded guilty and who would likely testify at his trial.

The key witness against Holloway would be Katoya Jones, who lived in the Navona building and admitted letting the gunmen through the building’s security door. Jones said Hook promised her a cut from the cocaine and cash stored in Thal’s apartment.

Jones, the first to cooperate with authorities, is awaiting sentencing on her guilty plea to two counts of third-degree murder.

According to trial testimony, Thal and Gilmore were active in the city's drug trade and her apartment was being used to distribute a load of Mexican cocaine that Gilmore, an Ohio long-distance trucker, had just delivered from Texas. After the shootings, the killers fled empty-handed. Police later found more than $100,000 and 8-1/2 pounds of cocaine in Thal's apartment.

At the trial of Hook, Murchison and Daniels, Jones told the jury about a late-night meeting with Hook and Holloway at a Germantown nightclub where they tried to figure out what went wrong.

Holloway, she testified, sat at the bar, bemoaning that he would not be able to buy an Aston Martin luxury car with what he expected would be his share of the robbery loot.