A sentencing in the Piazza case

A man who admitted being peripherally involved in the drug-theft conspiracy that ended with the June 27, 2009 slayings of two people at the Piazza at Schmidts complex in Northern Liberties was sentenced Friday to 6 to 12 years in prison by a Philadelphia judge.

Robert Keith, 30, pleaded guilty last November to conspiracy, burglary and possession an instrument of crime involving a June 27, 2008 break-in at a sixth-floor apartment at the Piazza’s Navona building that he thought held a cache of drugs and cash. Keith was accompanied by Will Hook, the alleged mastermind of the scheme.

But when the two men got inside the sixth-floor apartment the flat was empty: Hook’s information was apparently bad and Keith left the scheme at that point.

Several hours later, one floor above, a group of gunmen confronted Center City event planner Rian Thal, 34, and her friend Timothy Gilmore, 40, outside her apartment in a botched robbery. Police later found more than $100,000 in cash and 8.5 pounds of cocaine inside Thal’s apartment – the treasure Keith and Hook were looking for earlier.

According to trial testimony both Thal and Gilmore, an Ohio-based truckdriver, were involved in drug trafficking.

Keith told Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart that he had accepted responsibility for his role in the burglary, adding, “I’m glad I didn’t take part in the other crime.”

Defense attorney Guy R. Sciolla said Keith has taken 60 hours worth of courses and programs since he was arrested three years ago and is intent of turning his life around.

Minehart seemed impressed and agreed with Sciolla’s recommendation to make Keith’s sentence concurrent to a seven-year federal prison term Keith is serving on a firearms possesson charge.

Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega did not oppose the sentence though he said Keith’s actions “were a serious crime that actually led to something horrific.”

Vega said Keith was sentenced now because he will not be needed to testify at the May 29, 2013 trial of Caesar Holloway, 35, the last of eight persons charged in the Piazza case. Two others who have pleaded guilty – Katoya Jones, 28, and Langdon Scott, 29 – will not be sentenced until after Holloway’s trial where they are expected to testify, Vega said.

One gunman who pleaded guilty and Hook and two other gunman convicted at last year’s trial, are now serving life prison terms without chance of parole.