Four new suspects charged in massacre
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Authorities charged four new suspects Tuesday in the massacre of seven people in a drug den, and now say one of the worst mass murders in city history might have been caused by an argument over a car.
Four other men were cleared in June, just before going to trial in the December 2000 "Lex Street massacre." Authorities initially believed the slaying was meant to wipe out rival drug dealers.
The victims, ranging in age from 15 to 54, were fatally shot and three others wounded after a group of masked men stormed into a West Philadelphia crack house. The attackers herded the 10 occupants into a room, ordered them to lie face-down on the floor and opened fire.
The initial suspects were jailed for 18 months awaiting trial on murder charges. But in June, with a jury already selected, new evidence surfaced indicating the wrong men were in custody, and prosecutors - who had sought the death penalty - dropped the charges.
"We regret very much the fact that four other people were charged in this case," District Attorney Lynne Abraham said Tuesday.
But she continued to defend the handling of the case by her office and the police department, saying authorities moved quickly once their mistake became apparent.
The city faces at least one lawsuit.
"It was outrageous. These young men were just about facing the firing squad and the only reason they weren't killed is the guns misfired," said Nino Tinari, the attorney for Hezekiah Thomas, 25, who plans to sue the city over his ordeal.
Abraham on Tuesday announced murder charges against Shihe Black, 20; Bruce Veney, 26; Dawud Faruqi, 27; and his brother Khalid Faruqi, 26. Abraham said she was considering whether to seek the death penalty. All four men are in custody in unrelated cases; it wasn't immediately clear whether they had attorneys.
"It was apparently a dispute over a car," Abraham said.
According to an arrest affidavit, Veney told police he and the other suspects drove to the house to rob one of the victims, George Gibson, 18.
But Black offered a different account, allegedly telling police the shootings stemmed from a dispute over a blown clutch. Black said he had traded his Chevrolet Corsica and $300 for Gibson's Dodge Intrepid; in turn, Black gave the Intrepid to Dawud Faruqi in exchange for a Glock pistol. When the Corsica's clutch "went bad," Gibson demanded his Intrepid back, leading to an argument with Dawud Faruqi, according to arrest papers.
Later, the four suspects went to the crack house, and Dawud Faruqi began shooting after his mask fell off, court documents said.
"Black stated that Dawud started shooting, and then everybody started shooting," the documents said.
Defense attorneys for the four men who were cleared accused police of ignoring Black's confession. But Abraham said that police originally dismissed the confession because he had recanted it and because one of the surviving shooting victims had implicated one of the initial suspects.
The original charges were based partly on a confession from Jermel Lewis, 25, who allegedly said the motive was to wipe out rival drug dealers. Lewis later said his statement was coerced, a charge disputed by police.
"He wasn't coerced. He wasn't beaten. He wasn't browbeaten," Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said Tuesday.
Besides Lewis and Thomas, the other cleared men are Quiante Perrin, 20, and Sacon Youk, 21.
"There were harsh statements made by the prosecutors when these guys were facing death. Nobody ever apologized to these guys and no one even admitted they were wrong," said Youk's attorney, Tariq El-Shabazz.