Jury finds Rittenhouse Square stabber guilty of 1st-degree murder

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Steven Simminger (left), of Blackwood, N.J., was charged with murder in the March 13, 2016, fatal stabbing of Colin McGovern, 24, of Bucks County, after the two met in a chance encounter at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.

After a jury Wednesday pronounced Steven Simminger II guilty of first-degree murder in the March 2016 fatal stabbing of a Bucks County man at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, relief and silent tears spread over the victim’s family members.

The killing of Colin McGovern, 24, of Churchville, occurred after a chance encounter at the edge of the iconic Center City square. McGovern, who had become a sprinkler fitter like his father, and who was passionate about music and had posted YouTube videos of rap songs under the name “The Professor,” had come into Philadelphia the night before to celebrate the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day with friends.

After one of his friends made a sarcastic remark in passing to Simminger about Simminger’s New Jersey Devils sports cap, Simminger pulled out one of two double-edged switchblade knives he was carrying and plunged it into McGovern 10 times, including once in his heart.

Simminger, now 42, who had spent a few years in the Navy stationed in Norfolk, Va., who had lost part of a leg in a 1994 car accident, and who had long abused alcohol and drugs, showed no reaction when the jury foreman read the verdicts. The panel of eight men and four women, deliberating a little more than five hours over two days, also found him guilty of possession of an instrument of crime.

Simminger, of Blackwood, N.J., will be sentenced by Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O’Keefe to the mandatory term of life in prison on the first-degree murder charge at a hearing Jan. 22.

“I’m grateful that the jury has found justice and that the McGovern family will have peace with the verdict,” Assistant District Attorney Andrew Notaristefano said.

McGovern’s parents declined to comment, but appeared relieved. Two of his aunts shed tears after the verdicts were read. About 20 relatives and friends attended the trial, listening solemnly to the testimony, looking at the autopsy photos of McGovern’s stab wounds, and repeatedly watching a silent video of the random encounter in the square that ended with McGovern’s sudden death.

At the heart of the trial was Simminger’s mental state at the time of the stabbing. Defense attorney Gina Capuano, who said she disagreed with the verdicts and would appeal, had said at the start of the trial that this was not a whodunit. But she contended that Simminger stabbed McGovern out of fear and because of longtime mental-health issues including paranoia.

But Notaristefano contended that Simminger was not paranoid, but was an angry “ticking time bomb,” drunk on alcohol and high on heroin and cocaine. Simminger was seeking trouble that night and intended to kill McGovern after McGovern’s friend made a sarcastic remark about Simminger’s Devils cap, the prosecutor said.

The jury, which asked Wednesday to again see surveillance video of the encounter from a Rittenhouse Square building, agreed that it was an intentional killing with malice.

It was about 3 a.m. March 13, 2016, when McGovern, his close friend Sean Boyd and two female friends were on the outer south sidewalk of the square, near 19th Street, after spending the night at a couple of bars as part of St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Boyd, 25, of Bucks County, testified last week that he “was drunk” when he made a comment to Simminger about his hat, “something along the lines of  ‘Screw the Devils,’” said Boyd, who didn’t recall much else.

The video showed Simminger allegedly calling out to the four younger adults as they continued to walk away, then McGovern and Boyd turning around and walking toward him. As the three men stood near each other, Simminger “attacks first with that deadly weapon,” Notaristefano said in his closing argument Tuesday.

Simminger stabbed McGovern in the abdomen, then lunged toward Boyd, slashing the front of his Notre Dame jersey, the prosecutor said. After Simminger fell, McGovern got on top of him to try to take the knife away, Notaristefano said.

Instead, Simminger repeatedly stabbed McGovern, who collapsed a short while later.