Text messages crucial in guilty verdict in murder of City Commissioners Office employee

Claudine Boyer was home on the couch in North Philadelphia when she heard gunshots outside. Moments later, after opening the front door, she saw her son, 25-year-old Leonard Boyer III, lying on the pavement with blood coming out of his chest.

Around the corner, on the 1100 block of Wallace Street, Wanda Scott heard the barrage of gunfire and saw two men sprinting toward a parked sedan — one carrying a gun. The men jumped into the car and drove away.

Fifteen minutes after that, according to testimony presented at the Criminal Justice Center this week, a text was sent from a cellphone connected to Dyaire James.

“Up 1 bro,” said the text, sent to a contact in James’ phone labeled “Quack.”

And later that night — after Leonard Boyer, an employee in the City Commissioners Office whose cousin is a prominent labor leader, had been pronounced dead — another text was sent from James’ phone.

“Yo bro I jus got the word n– gone,” it said. “Check the news at 10.” James’ phone, meanwhile, had already been used to scour the internet for news reports of the crime.

Until this week, details surrounding the execution-style slaying of Boyer in August 2016 had remained largely a mystery. But on Friday, jurors ruled that the evidence against James was enough to find the 27-year-old guilty of first-degree murder.

The verdict, delivered after about an hour of deliberation, brought a measure of closure to Leonard Boyer’s relatives, many of whom spent the week fighting back tears in the courtroom gallery. His mother broke into tears on the witness stand recounting the moment she found her son shot.

Still, questions lingered after the jury had been excused, including the identity of the man who opened fire alongside James, and why the men had targeted Boyer.

Assistant District Attorney Lou Tumolo said in his closing argument that Boyer may have been a casualty of an ongoing “violent feud” between men who lived in the Penn Town housing project and others in the Richard Allen Homes, where Boyer’s family lived. Surveillance video played during the trial showed Boyer being knocked to the ground by bullets as he walked toward his mother’s house.

It was a tragic end for Boyer, whom City Commissioner Al Schmidt described as a dedicated employee. Schmidt had recommended that Boyer be hired as an election board specialist, and said in an interview this week that a photo of Boyer still hangs in the office.

“We miss him every day,” Schmidt said.

Camera icon Boyer Family
Leonard Boyer III was shot dead outside his mother’s house in North Philadelphia in August 2016. He is seen with his daughter, Taylor.

Boyer’s father, Leonard Jr., 53, said he still sometimes can’t believe that his son was murdered. The pain is worst, he said, when the younger Boyer’s 4-year-old daughter asks where her father is.

“I’m waiting for him to walk in my room,” Boyer Jr. said this week in the courthouse, surrounded by his wife, Claudine; his daughter Makia, 33; and his son’s fiancee, Dajahna Taylor.

The victim’s cousin Ryan Boyer is business manager of the Laborers District Council of Metropolitan Philadelphia, Boyer Jr. said.

Tumolo’s case rested largely on two elements: testimony from Scott, who saw the shooters fleeing the scene, and text messages and photographs recovered from James’ cellphone, which he had turned over to detectives.

Scott, 44, told jurors that she had been sitting in her car on Wallace waiting for her cousin when she heard gunfire, then saw two men run onto the block and flee in the sedan parked across the street from her.

Several weeks later, Scott met with homicide detectives to review photo arrays of potential suspects. She testified that she was unable to identify the man who hopped into the driver’s seat, but “instantly” recognized James as the gun-toting man who entered the passenger-side door.

Months after that identification, Scott again pegged James as one of the conspirators during an in-person lineup at the city jail.

James’ attorney, Jeremy-Evan Alva, told jurors that Scott had mistakenly picked the wrong person. Criminal justice experts have routinely warned that eyewitness identifications can be unreliable. Surveillance video of the murder did not provide a conclusive look at the face of either shooter.

To bolster his case, Tumolo presented information discovered on James’ cellphone, which had been examined by Detective Thorsten Lucke. The records presented during the three-day trial did not say who had been using the phone when the text messages were sent, only that the phone belonged to James.

Lucke said that in June 2016, texts sent from James’ phone showed an interest in illegally buying a Smith & Wesson handgun,  the same caliber weapon used when Boyer was killed.

The night of the crime, seemingly incriminating texts were sent from James’ phone while it was being used to search online for news of the slaying. Four days later, texts from James’ phone were sent to a contact named “Kev.”

“Say less bro,” one text read, “just kno this lol I got my first ring.”

When “Kev” replied that he’d seen it on the news, a text from James’ phone replied: “Lol FACTS I’m a f–ing young legend,” according to records presented in court.

James did not testify during the trial. His attorney, Alva, said during his closing argument that James had agreed to be interviewed by police and had allowed them to search his phone — behavior Alva said was inconsistent with that of a murderer.

Alva also said a patrol officer who was shown surveillance video of the shooting that night initially believed the offender later pegged as James looked like “Quack” — the man whom James’ phone had been texting minutes after the shooting. “Quack” was not charged in the crime; Tumolo argued that phone records placed him miles away at the time bullets were flying.

The jury delivered its verdict early Friday afternoon. James was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.