As murder case testimony ends, emotions flare

In what the prosecutor called a case of "ghetto honor" turned South Philadelphia shooting war, the murder trial of Hakeem Bey today goes to a Common Pleas Court jury.

The beginning of deliberations by the 12 jurors - after instructions in relevant law by Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes - follows an emotional, volatile final day of testimony and closing arguments.

By day's end, one juror had been dismissed after becoming ill or upset, a retired homicide detective loudly berated defense attorney Joseph Santaguida as a "bottom feeder," and the judge threatened to have Santaguida removed for interrupting the prosecutor's closing argument with objections.

Bey, 26, is charged with murder - he could be sentenced to death if convicted of first-degree murder - in the Sept. 24, 2000, ambush shooting of Moses Williams, 23, as Williams sat in the front seat of a car in South Philadelphia with other members of the entourage of an aspiring South Philly rapper.

Bey is also charged with the Dec. 26, 2000, shooting and wounding of that rapper, Duane "Wiz DeNiro" Clinkscales. Prosecutors also alleged that Bey engineered the Jan. 18 murder of Chante Wright, 23, a federally protected witness who was in the car with Williams when he was killed.

Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega told the jury in his closing that the events leading to Williams' murder were part "ghetto honor" and part rivalry between Bey's faction on South 23d Street near Tasker Street and Williams' on South 27th Street. Williams disrespected Bey's brother, Vega said.

"Someone got disrespected, so someone got killed for a stupid reason," Vega said.

But Vega said Bey went further, trying to eliminate anyone who might incriminate him in Williams' death.

"All the pain and hurt in this room are from him, his gun and his trigger finger," Vega said before a courtroom packed with Bey's and Williams' families. "Tell him the war stops here."

Santaguida argued that there was no physical evidence - guns or bullets, blood, fingerprints or DNA - to tie Bey to any of the violence in the case.

"You're not here to determine there's too much violence in this city," Santaguida said. "Absolutely [there is]. Senseless."

Santaguida told the jurors that "if you review the evidence, it's going to be saturated with reasonable doubt."

Much of yesterday morning's session involved Santaguida's only defense evidence: a photograph of Wright on Dec. 3, 2007, sitting in front of Bey during a prison visit with him at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center in the Northeast.

Santaguida argued that the visit showed Wright was not living in fear of Bey when she was killed. Santaguida said prison records showed she had also visited Bey in 2003, on April 14 and April 27.

Vega insisted Wright was pressured to leave witness protection and visit Bey in 2007 - six weeks before she was killed - and he called as a rebuttal witness retired Philadelphia Homicide Detective Charles Boyle.

Boyle, struggling to maintain composure, testified Wright told him she visited Bey because she thought she could defuse the situation involving Bey, who she said threatened to kill her if she testified against him.

"All this little girl did was want to live in this city!" Boyle interjected before the judge cut him off and instructed him only to answer the question asked.

Santaguida elicited from Boyle that Wright told him of the 2003 meetings with Bey, not the Dec. 3, 2007, visit.

"You didn't even know about that visit?" Santaguida asked.

"She didn't tell me," Boyle replied.

Boyle, tears in his eyes and his face florid, left the witness stand and a recess was called. Boyle, who said he retired the day before Wright was murdered, was milling about talking to other detectives.

Santaguida approached him and asked, "Are you all right?"

"Thirty years I put up with you," Boyle exploded. "You go to church? It's a disgrace. You're a bottom feeder."

Santaguida backed away, asking others nearby, "What's that about?"

In his closing, Vega referred to Boyle's emotion on the witness stand and showed the jury the photo of Bey and Wright. Bey, in a bright orange prison jumpsuit, is standing, grinning "like the cat who ate the canary," Vega said. Wright is seated in front of him, an uncomfortable look on her face.

Vega said Wright was brought to the prison by Bey's girlfriend and the mother of his child.

"The message was clear," Vega added. "Even though I'm in jail, I can get you. I still got juice on the street."

Vega's closing was interrupted after just 10 minutes when one of the jurors signaled that she was not feeling well and needed a break.

The juror, in obvious distress, walked unaided out of the courtroom with the other 11 jurors and three alternates about 12:30 p.m. A half-hour later, after a cart of lunch orders was wheeled into the jury room, courtroom officers announced that the trial would resume at 2 p.m.

About 2:45 p.m., the jury returned to court. The female juror took a glass of water, got back up and whispered to a courtroom official, and the jury went back out.

When the jury returned 20 minutes later, the female juror was gone, replace by a male alternate. No explanation was given in court, and Vega declined to explain.


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.