Defense in Craigslist murder trial to call disgraced ex-detective

Ron Dove (left) and Erica Sanchez (right).

The lawyer for Thomas Coffee - accused of luring a man into a fatal robbery using a Craigslist ad - will try to challenge the integrity of the prosecution case Thursday by questioning the now-disgraced Philadelphia homicide detective who led the criminal probe.

Ron Dove, fired two years ago as a homicide detective and facing obstruction-of-justice charges of covering up a killing allegedly committed by his girlfriend, will appear before Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson for a hearing without the jury to determine if he will testify.

On the surface, the charges against Dove, 43, and girlfriend Erica Sanchez, 34, have nothing to do with the murder-robbery charges against Coffee, 25, of Willow Grove.

Sanchez was arrested Oct. 16, 2013, after several weeks as a fugitive in the stabbing death Sept. 8 of Cesar Vera, 33, with whom she lived.

Dove, who police say was having an affair with Sanchez, quickly came under investigation and was fired. In January, he was charged with hindering apprehension, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and related crimes from allegedly helping Sanchez flee to Rochester, N.Y.

But from June through August 2013, Dove was also the lead detective in the June 21, 2013, murder of Daniel Cook, 27, a South Jersey man who police say was killed when he traveled to West Oak Lane to buy an ATV that Coffee advertised on Craigslist.

Evan T.L. Hughes, Coffee's lawyer, said he wanted to question the propriety of Dove's handling of the probe into Coffee's slaying.

Dove's attorney, Brian J. McMonagle, and Sanchez's lawyer, Peter C. Bowers, could not be reached for comment.

Philadelphia court records show that Dove and Sanchez are considering pleading guilty to the charges involving her flight to avoid arrest and his alleged help in doing so.

Sanchez is to appear Nov. 10 before Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian H. Ransom for what court records say is a "non-negotiated guilty plea."

She is also scheduled for trial that day on the Vera slaying, in which she has pleaded not guilty.

Court records say Dove will appear Sept. 8 before Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn H. Nichols to report on the "status of negotiations/possible non-trial disposition." Nichols, however, ordered Dove's Feb. 17 trial date to remain.

Bronson, who is presiding over Coffee's trial, told Hughes on Wednesday that he did not believe the lawyer could properly try to impeach Dove's handling of the murder investigation by using the pending criminal charges against the detective.

Bronson noted that Dove's involvement with the Coffee case predated the detective's own legal problems.

Hughes argued that he also wanted Dove to address allegations of racism in testimony Wednesday by Coffee's ex-girlfriend, Alexis Green, who testified about phone calls to Coffee before and after the Cook slaying.

Questioned by Hughes, Green described her interrogation by Dove, who is white, and said he called her a liar and referred to her using a racial slur.

Assistant District Attorney Guy D'Andrea called Hughes' rationale for questioning Dove specious, noting Dove's girlfriend is African American and that Dove questioned Green in the presence of homicide detective James Pitts, who is black.

Earlier Wednesday, the jury of seven women and five men heard testimony by Cook's fiancee, Jessica Davis, who wept as D'Andrea played a recording of her 911 call to police reporting Cook's slaying.

Davis said she was uneasy about Cook's nighttime trip to the city to make a Craigslist deal for an all-terrain vehicle.

"I told him to leave the money in the car, I had a bad feeling about this," Davis testified Wednesday about the June 21 trade to take place at Walnut Lane and Hollis Street in West Oak Lane at 10:30 p.m. "He laughed and told me I was always being negative."

Davis said she watched as Cook jumped out of her car and met with the man sitting on the front steps of a house on Hollis. The two disappeared around the corner, and then came the sound of two or three gunshots.

"I kept calling Danny's cellphone but he didn't answer," Davis testified.

In addition to Cook's slaying, Coffee is also on trial in three other armed robberies in June 2013, two of which also used the Craigslist ad gimmick to set up meetings with the victims.