By George Anastasia
They made a pact to kill the mothers of any associate who became a "rat."
And that's what Lamont Lewis said he thought he was doing in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004, when he and his cousin, Robert Merritt, firebombed the rowhouse of Marcella Coleman, the mother of Eugene "Twin" Coleman.
What Lewis didn't know, he said, his voice cracking, was that there were children in the house at the time. But when he angrily confronted Kidada Savage, who he said had set the murderous plan in motion, she was indifferent to the plight of the victims.
"Fuck'em," Lewis said Kidada Savage told him a day after the arson in which six people, two women and four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years, were killed.
Lewis, a self-described drug dealer and hitman, testified for nearly six hours today in the racketeering-murder trial of cocaine kingpin Kaboni Savage, Savage's sister Kidada, Merritt and Steven "Smoke" Northington.
The six homicides tied to the firebombing of the Coleman rowhouse are part of a dozen murders authorities have tied to the Savage drug organization,. Kaboni Savage, 38, once described by a high ranking Philadelphia police official as "pure evil," is accused of ordering the murders to solidify his multi-million dollar drug network and to intimidate potential witnesses.
The firebombing has been labeled by authorities as one of the most violent and brutal examples of witness intimidation in the history of the city. Eugene Coleman, a one-time Savage associate who had begun cooperating with authorities lost six family members in the blaze, including his mother and his 15-month old infant son.
But Coleman, 42, testified against Savage in a 2005 drug trial and again in the current racketeering-murder case. Savage, Merritt, 31, and Northington, 40, face possible death sentences. Kidada Savage, 30, could be sentenced to life in prison.
Lewis, 37, said he recruited Merritt, his cousin, to help with the arson after talking on the phone with Kaboni Savage on Oct. 8, 2004. Savage was in prison awaiting trial on federal drug dealing charges at the time. (He was convicted and is currently serving a 30-year sentence.)
The phone call was arranged by Kidada Savage who received the call from her imprisoned brother at the family home on North Darien Street and had told Lewis to be there when the call came in. Recorded by prison officials -- as are all prison phone calls -- the conversation played for the jury today included oblique references to what was planned with both Kaboni Savage and Lewis pledging their loyalty to one another.
"I'll be the last man standing, whatever it takes," Lewis said after Savage told him that Kidada had a message for him and would tell him what needed to be done.
"You gonna feel it when she say it," Savage told Lewis.
Both had alluded to reports that Coleman, once a top associate of Kaboni Savage, was cooperating. Earlier Lewis had testified that he, Savage, Coleman and others had agreed to a "pact" whereby their own mothers' lives would be in jeopardy if any of them "snitched."
After the phone conversation, Lewis said, Kidada Savage drove him past Marcella Coleman's rowhouse in the 3200 block of North Sixth Street, showing him where the target lived. Lewis said Kidada told him Coleman's mother and brother lived in the house along with a pit bull.
Lewis said he recruited his cousin, Robert Merritt, to help. He said they bought two cans of gasoline and were driving to Merritt's West Philadelphia apartment at 4 a.m. when they were stopped by police. Lewis was given a ticket for driving without a license, but, he said, "the cop got another call" and let them go.
A copy of the ticket, issued at 4:08 a.m. on Oct. 9, was introduced as evidence.
About two hours later, gas cans at the ready, Lewis said he kicked in the door of Coleman's rowhouse and, after a woman screamed from upstairs, "Who's that?" he fired two shots in the air.
Merritt then threw one of the gas cans, with a lit, makeshift cloth fuse, into the house.
"There was an explosion," said Lewis as he quietly recounted the events of that morning, his eyes looking toward the floor, his voice cracking. He said Merritt then threw the other can into the house as the woman screamed.
He and Merritt fled, heading to a bar nearby where he picked up some "weed." He said he and Merritt then went to a home where they sat on the porch smoking marijuana and "listening to the fire trucks."
Lewis said he called Kidada and left a message -- "It's done."
Later that morning, he said, while he was watching the television news, he learned that six people, including four children, were in the home and had died in the blaze. Merritt, he said, was "shell shocked" when he learned that children had been killed.
But he said Kidada showed no emotion. He said she gave him $2,000, part of a $5,000 payment that he had been promised. He said he never received the other $3,000, but that another drug associate Kaboni Savage gave him drugs worth about $5,000 as additional compensation.
Broad shouldered and soft-spoken, Lewis started what is expected to be a grueling cross-examination late today. He will be back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow. Kaboni's Savage's lawyer William Purpura began by challenging Lewis' account of several other murders he was involved in, including at least two he said he carried out on Savage's orders.
Those murders, of Carlton Brown on Sept. 12, 2001, and Barry Parker on Feb. 26, 2003, are also part of the case. Northington, who has not been charged in connection with the firebombing, is charged with taking part in the Parker murder.
Lewis said he killed Parker on Savage's orders because Parker was trying to horn in on a drug corner that Northington controlled. Northington drove him to and from the hit and pointed Parker out to him, Lewis said.
Lewis said he killed Brown because Savage suspected Brown of murdering "Pumpkin," a drug dealer described as "like a brother" to Savage. Savage was on house arrest at the time and told Lewis he would have to take care of Brown. Lewis said he immediately agreed.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher asked him why, Lewis coldly replied that that was his job in the Savage drug organization.
"That's what I do... for our team," Lewis said. "That's the role that I played."
He said he happened to bump into Brown a few days later and took advantage of the situation. Brown, he said, asked Lewis to drive him to his girlfriend's house in Southwest Philadelphia. On the way, Lewis said, they stopped on South Street at Condom Nation, where he and Brown made some purchases.
Brown apparently thought he was going to get lucky that night. Instead, he ended up dead. Lewis said he shot Brown after he had gotten out of the car in Southwest Philadelphia and had spoken to his girlfriend on the cell phone.
"I shot him once in the back of the head and when he turned, I shot him twice in the chest," Lewis said.
Lewis admitted to 10 murders in all. Not every one was carried out on Savage's orders, however,
He said he killed a woman, Tiffany Summers, who was the girlfriend of a paraplegic drug dealer. The drug dealer put the contract on Summers after she had allegedly tried to extort money. Lewis said Summers had tied up her crippled, drug dealer boyfriend, "sliced him about 100 times with a razor and poured bleach on him."
The drug dealer, who Lewis said paid about $23,000 for the hit, wanted her dead.
"He told me to shoot her in the face," Lewis said.
"Did you do that?" Gallagher asked.
"Yes," the unapologetic hit man replied.
In fact, it was only during testimony about the firebombing and the children who were killed that Lewis showed any emotion over the murders he has admitted to. The others, he said, were part of his life in the drug underworld, part of his business.
"That's what I did," he said.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net