Share This Page

Suspect in Philadelphia real estate agent's carjacking to ask forgiveness

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 10:09 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Minutes after learning a mother had died from a Philadelphia carjacking crash that killed three of her children, a teenage suspect blurted out a lament during a brief court hearing Wednesday.

“I'm going to ask for forgiveness from the family,” Johnathan Rosa, 19, told the judge as he waived his right to a hearing in the quadruple murder case.

Rosa and co-defendant Cornelius Crawford, 23, are charged with carjacking a real estate agent as she left a showing in her luxury sport utility vehicle. The agent was punched in the face and sexually assaulted, allegedly by both men, before the speeding vehicle blew a tire and crashed into a family selling fruit for their church.

Keisha Williams, 34, died of her injuries last week and will be buried on Thursday. Her children — 15-year-old Keiearra Williams, 10-year-old Thomas Joseph Reed and 7-year-old Terrance Moore — died on the day of the July 25 crash and were buried as their mother clung to life in a hospital.

“If the car zigs left instead of right, it's a different case,” said defense lawyer C.P. Mirarchi III, who represents Crawford and offered remorse on his client's behalf. He wants to know if Crawford was under the influence of drugs or alcohol that day.

“Hijacking the car to make a few dollars can sound like a good idea if you're high,” Mirarchi said.

Crawford had been out of prison on parole for a few months, working at odd jobs, after being incarcerated at 16 for robbery, relatives said. He earned a GED certificate in prison, but struggled as many do to find work as a convicted felon.

“He's not the monster everybody says,” Vonda Bowser, an aunt, said after the hearing. “He was a kid that got into trouble, yes. But he wasn't malicious, like they make him out to be. My brother and his stepmom raised him the best they could. Kids make mistakes.”

Both young men have given statements to police, and Rosa's lawyer, Chris Warren, has said his client will cooperate fully and seek a plea. But the second-degree murder charges do not carry the death penalty, and it's unclear if prosecutors will be negotiate a deal that would bring anything less than the maximum life sentence for the crimes, which horrified the city and prompted a several-day manhunt.

“We're not sure if any cooperation is needed or necessary,” Assistant District Attorney Brendan O'Malley said.

Williams and her family had sold refreshments weekly at the busy intersection to help her church raise funds to turn the adjacent corner lot into a playground. Former NBA star Charles Barkley learned of their deaths, and offered to pay for the children's funerals.

Rosa, a high school graduate who planned to join the Marine Corps, had a single prior arrest for a marijuana charge that was expunged. He met Crawford in the neighborhood days earlier, his lawyer said.

Rosa's cellphone was found in the stolen SUV. He initially said the phone had been stolen and was let go but surrendered the next day after speaking to his mother and pastor.

“This is aberrational conduct, to put it mildly,” Warren said of his client.

Prosecutors may call the real estate agent at Crawford's preliminary hearing on Oct. 21. She suffered broken ribs and other injuries in the crash, but has since been released from the hospital, O'Malley said.

Crawford allegedly pretended Rosa's cellphone was a gun when the carjacking began, and he was at the wheel when the vehicle crashed, police have said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.