Khusen Akhmedov, whose love of speed ended in a 2013 crash on Roosevelt Boulevard that killed a Northeast mother and three of her children, was found guilty Monday of four counts of third-degree murder.
Michael Diamondstein, lawyer for the 24-year-old Lancaster emergency medical technician, acknowledged that Samara Banks and three of her four sons died because of Akhmedov's speeding and reckless driving.
But Diamondstein argued that the evidence did not prove Akhmedov had the "malice" necessary to support third-degree murder, and said the accident was also caused by the Boulevard's dangerous design, and because the victims "jaywalked" in an area not for pedestrians.
Diamondstein said the city removed a traffic light at Second Street but left intact a concrete sidewalk that could have made pedestrians believe it was a legal crossing. After the accident, Diamondstein said, the city replaced the sidewalk with grass.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Steven R. Geroff disagreed.
Geroff cited prosecution evidence of a dozen citations and several license suspensions for Akhmedov from 2007 up to a week before the fatal crash on the Boulevard at Second at 10:30 p.m. July 16, 2013.
"He cared more about showing the driver of the Honda that his Audi was faster than he did about protecting the welfare of people," said Geroff in announcing his verdict. Geroff heard the case without a jury with the agreement of Diamondstein and Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb.
Geroff set sentencing for Oct. 1.
The Philadelphia courtroom was packed to standing room for the verdict, with the gallery evenly split between Akhmedov's and Banks' families.
There was some abortive applause at the verdict; a man among Akhmedov's supporters called to the Banks' contingent as the court emptied, "Are you happy?"
Outside, in the hallway, Akhmedov's father, Azim, repeated that question to the victims' family and reporters.
"Are you happy?" asked the native of Uzbekistan in accented English. "I'm sorry for what happened. I'm the father and I'm not happy. He was 21, he didn't intend to hurt anybody."
Janice Lawson, Banks' maternal grandmother, said she was "just glad it's over."
"He had no respect for human life," Lawson added. "All he cared about was winning that race."
According to prosecution witnesses, Akhmedov's silver 2012 Audi S4 was racing on the Boulevard with a souped-up white 1994 Honda Civic driven by Ahmen Holloman, 32, in a contest that had gone on for three or four traffic lights before the crash.
Akhmedov lost control of his car, and a police expert said he plowed into Banks, 27, and her children at 79 m.p.h. as they crossed the Boulevard on the border between Feltonville and Olney.
The impact propelled Banks' body 210 feet south on the Boulevard. Also killed were her sons Saa'mir Williams, 7 months; Saa'sean Williams, 23 months; and Saa'deem Griffin, 4. Banks' oldest son, Saa'yon Griffin, 5, survived when he and Banks' younger sister stepped onto a grass median strip a second before the others were hit.
Holloman, whose car did not strike the victims, pleaded guilty July 6 to four counts of vehicular homicide in exchange for a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.
Akhmedov chose a nonjury trial before Geroff after Lipscomb agreed not to seek a mandatory life prison term if he was found guilty of more than one third-degree murder count.
Lipscomb said Akhmedov faces a total sentence of 80 to 160 years in prison on the four third-degree murder counts. He could also face 14 to 28 years in prison for four counts of vehicular homicide and 10 to 20 years on four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Lipscomb said he will likely ask for a sentence of more than the 20 to 40 years that was part of a guilty-plea deal Akhmedov rejected before trial.