How bad is the problem of witness intimidation in Philadelphia’s criminal court system?
Consider the case of Devin Smith, the 27-year-old man charged in the Feb. 8 killing of Ramona Bell, 49, whose badly beaten body was found inside a house in the 4700 block of Salem Street in Frankford.
Smith had a preliminary hearing Tuesday that ended after two hours with Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Patrick F. Dugan ordering Smith to stand trial for murder -- despite two witnesses “going south” on the prosecutor and a relative of the victim getting charged for allegedly taking a cellphone picture of a witness.
Sometimes, there are too many cases happening at the same time to cover for Inquirer.com or the next day’s Inquirer. Here are two I’ve written about that were resolved earlier this week:
Rasheed Gey, 20, was sentenced to life without parole on Wednesday after being found guilty of first-degree murder in the Feb. 6, 2012 shooting of Dennis Gore Jr., the son of a Philadelphia police officer.
Gey had opted for a nonjury trial before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson, who found him guilty after a trial that began Tuesday.
The tortuous case of Eugene Gilyard and Lance Felder – serving life sentences for the 1995 murder of a North Philadelphia businessman – took another twist Monday when a Philadelphia judge agreed to postpone a final hearing date to Sept. 6 to let city prosecutors finish listening to tapes of prison phone calls by Ricky “Rolex” Welborn and others.
Gilyard and Felder, both 34, have been fighting a post-conviction appeal in which they say Welborn was one of the two gunmen who shot and killed Thomas Keal, 52, in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 1995.
Welborn, 34, serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder, has made a signed confession to killing Keal and exonerating Gilyard and Felder. The pair – supported by other witnesses to the shooting – say they were told to keep quiet by Felder’s brother, Robert, 38, then a North Philadelphia drug dealer, because Robert Felder drove the getaway care for Welborn and the other gunmen after the botched robbery.
There seems no doubt that Riley Cooper’s booze-fueled racial epithet hurled at a black security guard at Lincoln Financial Field was some pretty hateful speech.
But did the Eagle wide-receiver’s tirade – captured on video in June at a Kenny Chesney concert -- amount to a hate crime?
“From what I saw of the videotape it was not criminal behavior,” says Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the city’s top law-enforcement official and an African American who says he’s had his own experience with racism.
Thomas Coffee, the Willow Grove man charged with killing a South Jersey man he allegedly lured to West Oak Lane through the Craigslist Internet site to buy an all-terrain vehicle, has been charged in three more armed robberies.
And two of them, said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Liermann, used the same Craigslist gimmick -- an ATV for sale -- as the June 21 killing of Daniel R. Cook Jr.
Liermann said all three newly charged robberies – filed July 9, 10 and 18 – involved crimes that occurred in the two months before the killing of Cook, 27, of Williamstown. Two of the victims are from Philadelphia and the third from the Pennsylvania suburbs.
A South Jersey man convicted of racketeering with members of the Philadelphia mob was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno also ordered Gary Battaglini, 52, of Sewell, to pay a $1,000 fine.
An alleged mob associate, Battaglini helped run bookmaking and loan-sharking operations, prosecutors said. He was one of four defendants convicted of racketeering or other crimes in February in the latest Philadelphia mob trial.
A former Philadelphia Housing Authority worker was arrested Thursday on charges he conspired to use agency money to buy building materials then sold them privately at a steep discount, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Richard Lewis, 54, of Philadelphia became the fourth person to be charged in the scheme, which prosecutors said ran from 2002 to 2011. Lewis was indicted while Richard Perri, who was a PHA materials coordinator, was charged through an information last year, a step usually reserved for defendants who intend to plead guilty.
A federal judge on Wednesday postponed until February the trial of reputed sports betting boss Joseph “Joe Vito” Mastronardo Jr. and 15 others, because he said investigators waited until “the 11th hour” to turn over some evidence from the long-running probe.
The trial had been slated to begin Sept. 23 in Philadelphia, and U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois was preparing to hear arguments this month on defense motions likely to shape the proceeding. But in a courtroom meeting today with lawyers, DuBois said he learned last week that the prosecutors only recently received 14 cartons of documents from Montgomery County detectives and were scrambling to get the relevant evidence to defense lawyers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Bologna apologized for the snafu, which he said stemmed from miscommunication between county detectives and his office. Bologna said the government had already turned over 100,000 pages of evidence to the defendants, and less than 10 percent of the latest batch of documents was new or relevant. But he did not oppose the rescheduling.