Captured, suspect John Lewis confesses to killing Philadelphia police officer Charles Cassidy

"I apologize," Cassidy murder suspect says in Miami.

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John Lewis, arrested at a Miami shelter after he was seen on TV, is taken to a cell to await extradition to Philadelphia. Asked whether he had confessed to killing Officer Chuck Cassidy, he said: "Yes."

MIAMI - Officer Chuck Cassidy's killer confessed late last night to reporters in Miami, saying he was sorry for what had happened.

"I apologize to his family. I never meant anything to happen like this," John Lewis said as he was led from Miami police headquarters to a jail cell next to the courthouse where today he is to appear for an extradition hearing. The scene unfolded as the 21-year-old Lewis, accompanied by Philadelphia homicide investigators, was exiting an elevator for the short walk to a prison van.

When asked point-blank by reporters if he had confessed to the killing of Officer Chuck Cassidy, Lewis responded: "Yes."

Lewis, a high school dropout with a record for drug offenses, said very little afterward.

Dressed in civilian clothes, he looked dazed and fatigued after more than six hours of questioning by detectives who flew to Miami after learning of his arrest in the early morning.

Should Lewis waive extradition today, he could be back in Philadelphia by this evening to face charges in the killing of Cassidy, who was gunned down last Wednesday during a botched robbery of a Dunkin' Donuts in West Oak Lane.

The stunning confession came at the end of a day that began with Lewis' arrest after a staff member at a Miami homeless shelter recognized him as a wanted man.

The staff summoned Miami police, who quickly swooped in and arrested Lewis without a fight, ending a desperate search for the man implicated in a murder that has aroused the passions of a city weary of violent crime.

Within minutes of Lewis' arrest, news flashed north to Philadelphia, and officials scheduled a 9 a.m. news conference.

"In the city of Philadelphia, we do not stand for this kind of violence, nor do we stand for this kind of violence against our police department," Mayor Street said.

"Law enforcement has no boundaries," Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson told reporters. "When a law enforcement officer is killed, it's the entire law enforcement community that suffers."

As a legion of local and federal law enforcement officers sought Cassidy's killer, the shooting - caught on surveillance cameras - gripped the city's attention. One section of the tape shows the killer stoop to take the fallen officer's handgun before dashing away. Contributing to the passions was that Cassidy was the third police officer shot in four days.

Cassidy, 54, a father of three and described as a "gentle giant," will be buried today with full honors.

His family, preparing for last night's wake and today's funeral, expressed gratitude through a spokesman.

"We are extremely appreciative of the hard work of the Philadelphia Police Department during the past week and are grateful as well for the efforts of the police officers in Miami," the family said.

A Funeral Mass will be said today at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, with burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham.

Lewis' relatives declined to comment yesterday, and hung up on a reporter who telephoned. A sign attached to the door of his grandmother's house on Roosevelt Boulevard read: "No comment. No press. We love you, John."

Five Philadelphia police detectives yesterday flew to Miami to collect Lewis, pending the extradition hearing. Observing a police tradition, they tucked an extra item into their luggage: the dead officer's chrome handcuffs, which they planned to use to bring Lewis home to face prosecution.

Also yesterday, authorities arraigned a cousin of Lewis', Hakim Glover, 29, on charges of obstruction of justice and hindering arrest. Police said Glover put Lewis on a bus for Florida on Saturday, allowing the suspect to escape only minutes before police closed in on his mother's home on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Yesterday's events began after Arthur Chappell, a caseworker at the Miami Rescue Mission, stared at the image of the wanted man flashing on the local news channel around 6 a.m.

Chappell said the man who had signed in as "Akim Melvin Atwell" had behaved oddly. He balked at providing Social Security information and was evasive about his origins, saying he was a homeless orphan from Delaware.

When police arrived, the suspect surrendered quietly.

"He went very submissively," said Terri Ramos, a spokeswoman for the shelter.

Cassidy was shot in the head after interrupting an armed robbery Wednesday at the Dunkin' Donuts at 6620 N. Broad St. He died the next day.

Minutes after the shooting, law enforcement officials rushed into West Oak Lane, searching for clues and stopping anybody who resembled the description of the shooter - a stocky black man wearing a hooded sweatshirt who had a distinctive spider tattoo on his left hand. Unbeknownst to the police, their suspect had no such tattoo.

By Friday, Lewis apparently felt no need to conceal himself. He reported to the Criminal Justice Center that day to attend a hearing related to his arrest June 14 on drug-possession charges, a court official said yesterday.

Amid a huge dragnet, the suspect walked past dozens of law enforcement officers at the courthouse and presented himself to a judge, who ordered him to reappear in court in January.

By Saturday, however, police began to realize that the tattoo description was mistaken and focused on Lewis.

Tipped off by an acquaintance of Lewis' family, uniformed police rushed to the home of his mother, Lynn Dyches, in the 200 block of East Roosevelt Boulevard. They arrived about 1 p.m., missing the suspect by 30 minutes, Homicide Capt. Michael Costello said.

The mother, a Philadelphia corrections officer, told police that she did not know her son's whereabouts.

Police continued to investigate, and early Sunday - after two witnesses identified Lewis from a photograph - an arrest warrant was issued.

The warrant stated that Lewis had told his family he would not surrender.

On Monday, police learned that Lewis had allegedly left the suspected murder weapon - and Cassidy's 9mm departmental pistol - with his cousin, Glover.

Investigators yesterday said they believed that they had recovered the murder weapon from Glover's home, in the 3800 block of North Franklin Street in Hunting Park. Preliminary ballistics tests on the 9mm pistol, which was reported stolen in another state before the murder, are "promising," said Inspector Joseph Mooney, who heads the homicide unit.

Glover, who has a history of arrests dating to 1996, when he was charged with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, was initially uncooperative, officials said. But they said he eventually had disclosed that he took Lewis to the bus station in Wilmington on Saturday and bought his cousin a ticket on the 4:20 p.m. Greyhound bus to Miami.

By the time authorities learned that Lewis had left town, the bus had already arrived in Miami, at 10:45 p.m. Sunday.

Glover was held yesterday without bail.

Costello said others may be charged in connection with Lewis' run for freedom.

Police were initially uncertain whether Lewis was in Miami or had disembarked at any of the numerous stops along the way.

"We had FBI agents and law enforcement all over the place," Costello said. "And we had them everywhere in between here and Miami."

While investigators were distressed to learn that the suspect had left the state, they took solace in his picking the wrong city to hide - Miami, where the police force is led by former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney.

Philadelphia Chief of Detectives Keith Sadler called Timoney on Monday to ask for his help. So did Greg Singleton, the homicide detective responsible for the investigation.

Timoney immediately pulled together a task force in Miami and reached out to local television stations to air the suspect's image every half-hour.

Lewis was in custody in less than 24 hours.

For elated Philadelphia police officers, who had searched for the suspect around the clock, the news was welcome.

"This is the happiest sad day that I've had in a long time," said Sgt. Tim Cooney, a member of the Philadelphia task force created to catch Cassidy's killer.

"We worked long and hard on this," Cooney said, saying the homicide task force had worked closely with officers in the 35th District, where Cassidy worked, and North Division Detectives.

Singleton said exhausted investigators could finally take a break.

"I felt relieved that this guy was caught and we can finally put this thing to rest," he said.

 


Services Today for Officer Cassidy

A public viewing will begin at 7:30 a.m. inside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, 18th and Race Streets, where a Funeral Mass will be said at noon.

The cathedral seats about 1,500. The archdiocese will provide live, streaming video of the viewing and Funeral Mass at www.archphila.org. Both events will also be screened on closed-circuit televisions inside the cathedral chapel and on a Jumbotron screen on 18th Street across from the cathedral.

Burial will follow at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham Avenue and Easton Road, Cheltenham.


 

Go to www.philly.com for coverage of today's service for slain Officer Chuck Cassidy, along with photos from last night's viewing and other developments.


Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth

at 215-854-2947 or amaykuth@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Michael Matza, Robert Moran, Dwight Ott and John Shiffman.