Marie Buck, 81, was a beloved figure in South Philadelphia, a community matriarch who for four decades ran her corner store at Sixth and Titan Streets as if it were an extension of her rowhouse several doors away.
On Tuesday, after nearly two weeks of testimony and nearly four days of deliberation, a city jury said it could not decide if her shooting death inside the store on Christmas Eve 2016 — a killing that stunned the city — had been committed by an alleged drug dealer in a botched plot to shoot her grandson over a seedy underworld feud.
The panel of six men and six women told Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd just before 2 p.m. that it was deadlocked and unable to render a verdict against Maurice Green. Prosecutors had charged Green, 32, of Overbrook, with first-degree murder and weapons counts, saying he sprayed bullets into Buck's grocery to avenge the theft of his gold chain months earlier.
Green barely reacted as Byrd officially declared a mistrial — a departure from the defendant's animated behavior at the Criminal Justice Center throughout the proceedings.
Prosecutors vowed to try Green again. Because he is still accused of murder, he was returned to jail without bail to await another trial.
For the first four days of the proceeding, Green acted as his own lawyer, at times clumsily. In questioning an elderly witness to the crime, he inadvertently got her to say she believed he had committed it — something she had never said to police or prosecutors.
Green often kept a color photo of a pineapple on display for the jury, intended to show he is rough on the outside but sweet on the inside. But he tested Byrd's patience while questioning a former love interest and drug customer.
Eventually, Green asked his attorney, Robert Gamburg, to take over his defense. But Green later exploded in anger when Gamburg sought to avoid a line of questioning that Green thought could tip the scales in his favor.
"Dunk the ball, Bob!" Green screamed, lacing the rest of his outburst with profanity. The antics drew a rebuke from Byrd, who threatened to hold Green in contempt of court and said: "I have tolerated about as much of you as I will."
Antics aside, jurors had struggled since last week to reach a unanimous verdict, telling Byrd three times that they were deadlocked. Buck's relatives, who filled several rows of courtroom benches throughout the trial, sat quietly as the judge granted Gamburg's motion for a mistrial.
Prosecutors Joanne Pescatore and Matthew Krouse declined to comment afterward.
Buck owned her grocery with her husband for 44 years. She was remembered as an unfailingly friendly woman who had South Philly spunk, knew her customers by name, and kept handwritten tabs if a customer was short on money.
She was shot dead behind the counter of Marie's Grocery just before 9 a.m. Dec. 24, 2016. A gunman burst through the front door and began spraying bullets around the shop; several hit Buck, who was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and declared dead around 9:15.
At trial, prosecutors argued that Green had pulled the trigger, targeting the store in an attempt to shoot Buck's grandson, Robert, who Green thought would be behind the counter. Months earlier, according to trial testimony, Robert Buck had conspired with his then-girlfriend, Angela White, to steal a gold chain from Green, their heroin dealer. The couple then pawned the jewelry on South Street and used the proceeds to fund a multiday heroin bender at a New Jersey motel, according to testimony.
White testified that Green later beat her over the theft. And she and a friend, Dominic Romano, each testified that Green told them he wanted to find Robert Buck — which they assumed meant he was still seeking retribution over the stolen chain.
Prosecutors Pescatore and Krouse also argued that cell-phone records and surveillance video from the morning of the crime showed Green was likely moving around Marie Buck's neighborhood before and after the shooting.
Gamburg, Green's attorney, said in his closing argument that no direct evidence linked Green to the crime, that the video played for jurors was unclear, and that the cell-phone records were faulty because several members of Green's drug organization shared a phone. During questioning, Gamburg and Green also sought to portray Robert Buck, White, and Romano as drug-addicted or liars.
Gamburg said afterward that he was "hopeful that when the case gets retried … the jury comes back with the right verdict."