Two men will be sentenced Friday for a murder they committed in 2008. John Cornish and Malik Johnson were found guilty of third degree murder and related offenses in the killing of 53-year-old Steven Tucker.
Tucker was gunned down on October 7, 2008. Assistant District Attorneys Carlos Vega and Brian Zarallo successfully prosecuted this case that had connections to another murder case, the slaying of community leader Miles Mack.
John Cornish was the alleged leader of Thompson University, a violent, small-time North Philadelphia drug gang, according to investigators.
Tucker was found sitting in his car dying from gunshot wounds at 29th and Thompson Streets in the city’s Brewerytown section. Investigators believe the killing was a case of mistaken identity and Cornish and Johnson were arrested for the slaying in January 2009.
“Thompson University has been around for a fairly long time, about 10 or 15 years,” said Capt. Dennis Cullen in a previous interview. Cullen said the gang operates in the vicinity of 29th and Thompson streets and extends no more than a block or two in any direction. “It’s a small territory. Most of the older members started when they were young kids. Members go to prison or get seriously injured and younger boys in the neighborhood take over, becoming very aggressive. Older members who are injured take an advisory role.”
Community activist and basketball coach Miles Mack, 42, was one of two victims gunned down on September 11, 2008 when Kareem Savage and his alleged accomplice, Malik Johnson allegedly entered the McAlpin Playground at 36th and Aspen Streets.
The intended target was 19-year old Darren Hankins, who was allegedly ordered to die by Cornish. Savage was convicted of two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Mack and Hankins but neither Cornish nor Johnson have been charged in the case.
Suspected killer of South Street DJ arrested
Homicide detectives said an 18-year-old suspect has been arrested and charged in the murder of a popular disc jockey on South Street, but a second suspect remains at-large as of Tribune press time.
Police arrested Josephe Murray, of Reedland Street on Wednesday. Investigators alleged that Murray and another man gunned down Tom Watson, 36, during a robbery. Watson was entering his apartment on near Third and South streets above the Haagen Dazs ice cream store on Saturday, May 11. Responding medics pronounced Watson dead at the scene just after 3:30 a.m.
Murray is charged with murder, robbery and related offenses. Investigators said the robbery and murder appeared to have been drug related and the search for Murray’s accomplices is continuing.
Arrest in home invasion
Lakea Woods was arrested by police on May 12. Woods is one of three suspects wanted for a home invasion on May 3. Two of the suspects remain at large as of Tribune press time.
Police said that on May 3, at 10 p.m., two unknown males and one female were captured on surveillance video entering the apartment buildings located on the 6600 block of 12th Street in the city’s East Oak Lane section. Once inside the apartment building the suspect’s went to the victim’s apartment and knocked on the door. When the victim asked who was there, Woods allegedly responded and the victim, a 55-year-old male, opened the door. When the door was opened, all three suspects forced their way in. They allegedly knocked the man down and demanded money at gunpoint. After taking an undetermined amount of cash an Xbox game system, prescription medications and a cell phone the suspects fled the apartment building in an unknown direction.
On May 12, at 12:15 p.m., two 35th district officers were investigating a person screaming on the 5200 block of North 13th Street. When the officers were permitted inside a residence they observed a female in the basement who fit the description of the suspect in this home invasion. Woods was then arrested and charged with this crime. Woods is 33 and hails from the 1600 block of Prospect Avenue. She is charged with robbery, aggravated assault and related offenses.
On the heels of a report released last week by the city controller that was critical of the Actual Value Initiative, another report released on Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts reveals that AVI would shift a greater share of the property tax burden over to residential owners and a lesser share to commercial and industrial property holders.
The report, AVI: The Shift in the Property Tax Burden shows that for 2014 the added tax burden could be as high as $72 million a year with another $11 million in taxes on stores with dwellings; properties that are everywhere in neighborhood commercial corridors. According to the Pew report, the tax burden for the commercial and industrial property owners would drop by approximately $55 million and $20 million, respectively, each year. The report goes on to say that AVI would also reduce the tax burden on residential properties that have 10-year tax abatements; such property owners will pay approximately $3 million less.
“How would these shifts in tax burden happen under AVI? For the 2013 tax year, before AVI, the city listed the taxable market value of Philadelphia’s 579,000 properties at $39 billion. For the 2014 tax year, with AVI, the city has set the new total at about $100 billion, meant to be full value,” the report said. “This means that properties had been previously assessed on average at about 39 percent of value. Under AVI, some of the tax burden would shift from those categories of property that had been assessed at higher than the 39 percent average to those that had been assessed at a lower percentage. Categories that had been relatively over-assessed include commercial (49 percent) and industrial (62 percent). Relatively under-assessed categories include residential (35 percent) and stores with dwellings (28 percent). Officials had anticipated that AVI would trigger such shift[s] because they believed, correctly as it turns out, that the previous assessments of commercial and industrial properties had been closer to market value than residential. In the absence of mitigating circumstances, the largest increase, about $72 million would be for the residential sector. The largest decrease, $55 million would be for the commercial sector.”
In an effort to mitigate the shifting tax burden Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council have put several proposals on the table, one of them being a homestead exemption for all owner occupied residences. The Pew report said such an exemption would probably help lessen the magnitude of the tax changes, but would be unlikely to eliminate it. The Philadelphia Homestead exemption would offer tax savings to homeowners by reducing the taxable portion of their property assessment by $30,000. Applications were sent out in 2012.
Brett Mandel, who sat on the Philadelphia Tax Reform Commission and is running for city controller against Alan Butkovitz said he thinks that right now real estate taxation is unfair and illegal in some ways.
“Some property owners are being over-taxed and other properties are being deliberately under-valued. I sat on the Tax Reform Commission and one of the recommendations we made was a land-value taxation that we would phase in. This would reduce taxes for most city residents and also remove some of the things impeding our economic growth. Under such a program the actual land would be taxed more and the building on the land less. We want to make sure we keep the tax rate as low as possible, while making sure we protect homeowners. Overall, we want to make sure we get the value right and second, how to tax in a way that’s fair.”
In Harrisburg this week, two bills passed the State House of Representatives that would offer tax relief to residents of the city, said Democratic state Representative Ed Neilson of Philadelphia. The first bill would make delinquent landlords accountable for back taxes; the second bill is designed to help homeowners pay their property taxes in installments.
“These bills would unburden the many good homeowners and landlords of Philadelphia, which will improve their quality of life. House Bill 388 would let the city hold delinquent landlords accountable for property taxes. Currently, the city has to file a costly and time-consuming civil suit to try and recoup money from these property owners. This results in lost revenue for the city. With this legislation, the city would be able to place a lien on any property a delinquent landlord owns in the commonwealth. House Bill 391 would allow certain homeowners in Philadelphia to pay their property taxes in installments. This legislation is fair and responsible, because it still brings in revenue for the city, but does so while burdening the taxpayer less.”
Philadelphia City Council also passed legislation to encourage payments from delinquent taxpayers. Both measures would modify sections of Philadelphia City Code Title 19 and were co-sponsored by Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. and Councilman Bill Green on behalf of the Nutter administration.
“We want to encourage people to bring their accounts into compliance with the law and realize whatever revenue we can,” Green said. “If we give people a rational path to pay off what they owe and stop the meter running, they are far more likely to do so.”
The first measure, Bill 120822, passed council unanimously on April 4. It establishes fixed interest and penalty rates for all delinquent taxes other than real estate taxes and clarifies the language covering limitations of actions to recover and assess taxes for the city and school district. The second measure, Bill 120823-AA, became law during Thursday’s council session. It applies all payments made on delinquent accounts first to the principal amount owed, replacing the current system which applies payments to interest, principal and fees on a pro-rata basis. It will also require receipts of all transactions upon tax payer request starting in 2015.
The result will be payments going towards reducing the principal, thus encouraging and enabling tax payers to actually get out of their debts.
“This is an important change for taxpayers,” Jones said. “This measure stops the process of taxpayers making regular payments and never seeing their balance go down. We want to make it easier for people to work with us in good faith to pay off their delinquent tax liability this provides reasonable terms for taxpayers to encourage them to pay off their delinquent accounts.”
It was an eventful week for former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell — with a jury finding him guilty of murder, his request for life in prison without parole, and a Court of Common Pleas judge sentencing him to three consecutive life terms behind bars.
The announcements followed in succession like dominoes; a guilty verdict on Monday, an offer by the defendant to waive all appellate rights in exchange for life without the possibility of parole on Tuesday and sentencing on Wednesday by Judge Jeffrey Minehart.
District Attorney Seth Williams, who spoke with reporters following Gosnell’s sentencing, characterized Gosnell as a monster and a murderer.
“I have seen a lot of senseless and cruel acts as the District Attorney of Philadelphia, but this case is arguably the most gruesome,” said Williams. “I will not mince words, Kermit Gosnell is a monster. Any doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is a murderer and a monster. He knowingly and systematically mistreated female patients for years, which ultimately resulted in the tragic death of Karnamaya Mongar.”
Gosnell, 72, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the deaths of three babies, known as Baby A, C and D, who were born alive but were killed when their spinal cords were severed with a pair of scissors, Williams said. Gosnell also received an additional two and a half to five consecutive years for manslaughter charges relating to the death of Karnamaya Mongar. Gosnell was also sentenced to concurrent sentences for the remaining charges against him. The jury of seven women and five men convicted Gosnell of first degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, performing abortions at 24 or more weeks, and related charges.
“This was a groundbreaking criminal prosecution, where this office, the prosecutors and most importantly the 12 jurors found these heinous acts to be willful, intentional, deliberate, premeditated murders,” Williams said. “This doctor’s illegal purposeful actions against the smallest and most vulnerable human beings born alive were properly called murder by our citizens, and we have acted to seal and preserve those verdicts for all time. The defendant was also found guilty of dozens of other charges which demonstrated his pattern of endangering the lives of his patients, mostly poor women.”
But Williams said Gosnell didn’t start his medical career as a murderer or an alleged illegal prescription drug dealer. Gosnell was making $1.8 million a year performing abortions. Gosnell graduated from Central High School in 1959 and went on to Dickinson College and from there to the Thomas Jefferson Medical School where he graduated in 1966. After that he practiced medicine in Philadelphia’s poor communities.
“As one of the jurors noted, at some point after his graduation from Central High School, after attending and graduating from medical school – he’s a highly intelligent person who really at some point was doing good,” Williams said. “But at another point he started compartmentalizing the different things he was doing and separating himself from reality and managed to step away from his Hippocratic Oath.”
During the late 1960’s and 1970’s he became a proponent of abortion rights. It was during that time when an incident occurred that was perhaps a foreshadowing of what he would eventually become. According to the grand jury investigation, Randy Hutchins, the only licensed medical practitioner on Gosnell’s staff, testified before the grand jury that Gosnell told him about what came to be known as the Mother’s Day Massacre. The grand jury’s report references a Philadelphia Inquirer story dated February 25, 2010, in which Gosnell allegedly offered to perform abortions on 15 poor women who were bused into Philadelphia from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972.
The patients were all in their second trimester of pregnancy. The grand jury’s report states that Gosnell didn’t inform the women that he was going to use an experimental medical device on them called a super coil. The device was developed by an alleged underground abortionist named Harvey Karman. The super coil had never been tested and Hutchins described it as plastic razors in the shape of a sphere. The razors were coated with a gel to keep them closed and inserted into the mother’s womb. Gradually, after several hours, the gel would melt under body temperature, the razors would spring open and cut the fetus, whose remains would be expelled. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer story, Karman tested the device on hundreds of Bangladeshi women who had been raped by Pakistani soldiers. The victims suffered numerous complications.
“Nonetheless, Karman brought his ‘super coil’ to Philadelphia where he found an ally in Gosnell,” the report stated. Quoting the Philadelphia Inquirer article, the grand jury investigation reported that the 15 women suffered serious medical complications. Karman was prosecuted and convicted of practicing medicine without a license. The conviction was later overturned in 1974 when a judge ruled that the late Arlen Specter, who was district attorney at the time, failed to show which women Karman had treated. Gosnell was never prosecuted.
“According to the report Gosnell told Hutchins that he left Pennsylvania for an extended period after the super coil incident, first going to the Bahamas and then New York. Gosnell’s reasoning was that if the State Board of Medicine hadn’t brought any charges against him, he could leave for a while and return with his medical license intact; which was in fact what happened.
The case against Gosnell began as a drug investigation into illegal oxycontin prescriptions, according to Jimmy Wood of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Division. Following an extensive investigation by cooperating state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, on February 18, 2010, a raid took place on Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society, in West Philadelphia. Personnel from the DA’s Office and the FBI uncovered the horrors inside. Law enforcement officers happened upon the medical abuses in the course of investigating tips that the doctor had been illegally selling thousands of prescriptions for oxycontin and other narcotics to “patients” that he never examined. The raid revealed that bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses were scattered throughout the building. Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf. Furniture and equipment was dusty, broken, and blood-stained. The doctor himself was seldom present. In his absence, untrained and unsupervised workers, (one of them a teenage girl) routinely injected dangerous sedatives into women undergoing illegal late-term abortions.
“When the verdict came in, I got very emotional,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore. “As a woman and a mother, I found the squalor and suffering of the patients beyond belief – beyond belief that it could happen in Philadelphia. I just thank God that we were able to do something about it and that Gosnell will have to pay for what he did.”
The right to vote is a privilege and a duty many Americans have bled and died for.
It is a right that, historically, was denied to African Americans and women, and one that, for African Americans, came at a high price.
When Medgar Evers was murdered on June 12, 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith the motive was the fact that he had been relentlessly working to secure the right to vote for Blacks in the state of Mississippi. Racist politics and discriminatory practices at the polls kept many Blacks from exercising their constitutional rights.
Of course, Evers wasn’t the only victim of white racists who wanted to keep the power of the vote out of the hands of African Americans. Again, in Mississippi, in 1964, FBI agents investigated the murders of four Civil Rights workers who were educating Blacks about how to exercise their right to vote.
But in 2013, the right and responsibility to vote has been coming under greater debate, scrutiny and defense. The United States Supreme Court is debating whether or not key provisions of the Voting Rights Act; specifically Section 5, is necessary and in Pennsylvania and other states, Republican lawmakers have implemented controversial Voter ID laws. Under the cloak of protecting the integrity of elections and preventing voter fraud, Republican lawmakers have successfully pushed through legislation that would require voters to show a state issued picture identification card before they can cast a ballot.
However, although Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law remains challenged, it was not enforced in the 2012 November Presidential Election, nor will it be enforced in the May 21 Primaries.
“This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of approximately 750,000 individuals, mostly the poor, the elderly, students and racial minorities,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Hughes in a previous interview. “It is voter suppression, plain and simple and we must not stand for it. Let the people vote. The Voter ID law was about a Republican attempt to win the presidential election in November. The dubious claims of voter fraud made by the Republican majority and Gov. Tom Corbett simply do not exist. That has been proven.”
Opponents of such laws – and they are legion – have successfully fought back; saying such laws are discriminatory. In some states Voter ID laws have been repealed, in others, their implantation has been deferred. In the 2012 Presidential election, Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law was not implemented and although some poll workers did ask some voters to show their official identification, it was not a requirement.
During the upcoming May 21 primary election the Voter ID law will still not be in effect. Again, although poll workers might ask for official identification, the voters don’t have to produce it but first time voters must show either a photo or non-photo identification. Research has shown that voter fraud is an extremely rare occurrence – even in cities like Philadelphia, where emotions over local elections sometime get a little messy.
Investigations conducted by the United States Department of Justice turned up no evidence of voter fraud and failed to show voter fraud was a problem anywhere in the nation. Opponents of Voter ID laws call them voter suppression laws.
“This year, in this country, we have seen more states pass laws to push voters of the polls than in the past 100 years,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous regarding Voter ID laws. “Turning the tide, we have won in Texas and we have even won in the Republican states of Michigan and Virginia. We won in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It is an extremist thing. All of us should have the right to vote.”
The Pennsylvania Voter ID law was enacted on May 14, 2012 and required that all Pennsylvania voters produce a valid, state issued identification card; either a PA drivers or non-driver’s license.
Voters could also use a valid passport or student identification. Before Gov. Tom Corbett put pen to paper to sign the measure into law, it met with increasing opposition; so much that the NAACP and ACLU filed a lawsuit to block it from going into effect.
The basis for the lawsuit was that implementing the law was discriminatory and meant to stack the 2012 Presidential Election in favor of Republican Mitt Romney. Opponents stated that the Voter ID law would place unconstitutional burdens on over 100,000 voters in the city. At least 186,000 registered voters in Philadelphia had no form of PennDOT identification, one of the only types of identification acceptable as proof of the right to vote. At least 175,000 registered voters had expired PennDOT identification.
Full implementation of the law was blocked for the General Election and it won’t be in effect for the May 2013 Primary Election.
Opponents of the law pointed out that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – which has also seen increasing questioning regarding whether or not it’s necessary anymore – prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color.
Discrimination in voting applies to any voting standard, practice or procedures that result in either the denial or abridgement of the right to vote of any citizen because of their race or color.
Judge Robert Simpson, who finally issued a partial preliminary injunction that allowed voters without proper identification to vote in the 2012 General Election, has yet to rule on the issue any further. A trial on a permanent injunction will begin on July 15, 2013 in Harrisburg.
“The question is why you really had to change the law?” said the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church. “Did you change the law because you knew that people lack photo ID in poor Black and brown communities? We have to vote because people died for our right to vote. We have to vote because Medgar Evers died for us. We have to vote because hundreds of thousands marched for us.”
After a nine week trial and after deliberating the facts of the case since April 30, the jury deciding the case of former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell reached a guilty verdict Monday afternoon.
Gosnell, 72, who was accused of performing illegal late-term abortions and was charged in four counts of murder was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder. The District Attorney’s Office, prosecutors and defense attorneys were unable to comment further on the case because of the gag order which remains in force until the penalty phase of the proceedings. Gosnell is scheduled to return to court on Monday, May 20 in courtroom 304, at which time the jury will decide whether Gosnell goes to prison for life or faces the death penalty.
The jury determined he was not guilty on one count of first degree murder. Gosnell was also found guilty of one count of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Karnamaya Mongar. Mongar died as a result of an overdose of medication while under Gosnell’s care.
Gosnell was facing eight counts of murder, multiple counts of conspiracy and related offenses.
The case against Gosnell started to come to light when authorities executed a search warrant at the Women’s Medical Society, located at 3801 Lancaster Avenue on February 18, 2010. Local, state and federal authorities had been investigating Gosnell for several months and following allegations of illegal prescription drug activity.
What authorities found when they raided the clinic was a dirty and unsanitary facility. According to investigators half-conscious women were laying on dirty recliners, covered with blood stained blankets. There was blood on the floor and the stench of cat urine permeating the atmosphere. A procedure room was compared by one investigator with a bad gas station bathroom.
As authorities continued their search of 3801 Lancaster they found the remains of dead fetuses stored in bio-hazard bags, in milk jugs, cat food containers and orange juice containers. Some of the remains were stored in a refrigerator and others were frozen.
“This guilty verdict is victory for unborn babies around the world—and their mothers,” said Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association in a press release. “No longer will we look at abortion as just another ‘simple procedure’ for the sake of convenience. In this case, abortion killed a 41-year-old woman with a full life ahead of her. But abortion kills so much more—human spirit, a child’s chance to grow up and flourish, and love that can blossom in family relationships. We hope and pray that this decision today will send a loud and clear message that abortion is wrong and it’s murder.”
Drug kingpin, sister found guilty in firebombing
After deliberating for a little more than a week a federal jury delivered a guilty verdict against convicted drug kingpin Kaboni Savage and his sister, Kidada Savage.
The Savages were found guilty in connection with the firebombing murders of the family of Eugene Coleman, a former associate.
All of the defendants were convicted of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise. Kaboni Savage, 38, and Kidada Savage, 30, were found guilty of the Coleman murders; 6 counts of murder in aid of racketeering, retaliating against a witness by murder, and of using fire to commit a felony.Savage was also guilty of an additional 7 counts of murder in aid of racketeering. 13 murder counts total. Steven Northington was found guilty of 2 counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
The penalty phase is scheduled to begin May 20, 2013 for Savage and Northington.
Allegedly, between the two of them, Kaboni and Kidada Savage ordered and devised the deaths of the Coleman family. Coleman had been cooperating with federal authorities against Savage and testified against him during his original trial. Before the case went to trial Coleman’s family was murdered in 2004 when their residence was firebombed.
Federal authorities indicted the sister in 2011 of allegedly conspiring with Savage to murder Coleman’s family. On October 4, 2004. Coleman’s mother, Marcella Coleman, 54, his infant son, Damir Jenkins, 15 months, his niece Tameka Nash, 34 and her young daughter, Khadjah Nash, 10 perished in the flames. Also killed were Marcella Coleman’s grandson, Tahj Porchea, 12 and nephew, Sean Rodriguez, 15.