A Philadelphia man accused of fatally shooting a 29-year-old Temple University graduate in Haverford Township in 2017 — an attack that stunned the region because it seemed to lack a motive and led to a weeks-long, multistate manhunt — was convicted Thursday by a Delaware County jury of first-degree murder and related counts.
The panel of seven women and five men deliberated for about four hours before finding Derrick Rollins, 25, guilty of all charges. Rollins also had been accused of spraying 17 bullets toward two men in a car in Overbrook Park minutes before he drove to the Main Line and encountered 29-year-old John Le, who had been heading to a friend’s house after playing tennis.
As the verdict was read, Le’s mother, Maria Nguyen, sat stoically holding her hand to her face. She had attended nearly all of the proceedings this week, saying she wanted to “be with John,” the youngest of her four adult children. After the verdict, she said that she appreciated the jury’s decision, and that although attending the trial was difficult, she felt it important. “I want to be with John all the time,” Nguyen said.
Rollins did not know Le or the two other men at whom he shot, and the four-day trial in Media did little to establish a motive for his crimes.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Hill did not seek to explain why Rollins went on a shooting rampage.
Kevin M. O’Neill, Rollins’ attorney, sought to portray his client as so intoxicated by marijuana and pills the day of the shootings that he could not have possessed the intent required to be found guilty of first-degree murder. Still, O’Neill admitted that Rollins pulled the trigger, even if the reasons remained a mystery.
“My client is the one who committed the murder [of] Mr. Le,” O’Neill told the jury this week, hoping that the panel might convict Rollins on a lesser murder count and spare him an automatic life sentence.
Rollins, wearing a gray suit and a necktie, did not visibly react to the verdict. He displayed little outward emotion during the trial, and decided Thursday that he would not take the stand in his own defense.
According to testimony presented this week, Rollins’ crimes began around 5:15 p.m. July 29, 2017. Two men who lived on 77th Street in Overbrook Park confronted Rollins after spotting him suspiciously casing a house on the block, and Rollins responded by pulling out a gun and firing 17 shots at the men, who were in a car.
Neither man was injured, but bullets pierced the car several times. Rollins then hopped into his gray Volvo sedan and sped away.
Minutes later, Rollins — who lived in Philadelphia — was in Haverford Township. It remained unclear how he ended up in a confrontation with Le, but Le’s friend, Bill Duffy, testified that Le was returning from a recreational tennis match to hang out at Duffy’s apartment on the 2300 block of Haverford Road. Before Le could enter the building, he apparently crossed paths with Rollins, who by then had gotten out of his car. Rollins fired several shots at Le before fleeing — first on foot, then in his Volvo.
Le, a graduate of Lower Merion High School who lived with his mother in Narberth, was hit twice and was found bleeding in the doorway vestibule of the apartment building. Witnesses testified that little beyond his cell phone seemed to have been stolen, and Duffy testified that he heard no evidence of an argument or struggle before he heard gunshots.
Rollins, meanwhile, ended up back in the city that night. His fiancee, Tatiana Thompson, testified this week that Rollins picked her up from work around 10 p.m., and that the two went into Center City to get ice cream. Afterward, she said, they went back to her house in Germantown, where she saw Rollins ingest a mix of ground-up pills before he passed out. Thompson’s brother, Anthony Thompson, said he and Rollins also had smoked marijuana that day.