By George Anastasia
The defense and the prosecution both rested their cases today in the murder-racketeering trial of Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants, setting the stage for closing arguments to begin Monday in federal court in Philadelphia.
Savage, 38, and two co-defendants, Robert Merritt, 31, and Steven Northington, 41, could be sentenced to death if convicted of any of the 12 homicides listed in the case. The fourth defendant, Savage's sister Kidada, 30, could be sentenced to life.
The murders include the deaths of two women and four children killed in an October 2004 firebombing of a North Philadelphia rowhouse. The arson, authorities allege, was ordered by Kaboni Savage.
The prosecution rested this afternoon after calling one rebuttal witness, FBI Agent Kevin Lewis. Lewis was called to the stand a half dozen times during the 12-week trial, usually to explain evidence gathered during the investigation or to introduce secretly recorded conversations that came from wiretaps or from listening devices.
The anonymously chosen jury of nine women and three men (as well as six alternates) heard more than 300 conversations during the trial. Those were culled from nearly 20,000 recordings made during the decade-long investigation into the Savage drug organization.
Lewis and Philadelphia Police Detective Thomas Zielinski spearheaded that probe. Savage was convicted of drug trafficking in 2005 and is currently serving a 30-year sentence. Authorities allege he ran a multi-million dollar cocaine distribution network that used fear, intimidation and murder to control a segment of the North Philadelphia drug underworld.
Witness intimidation was a major tool used by Savage, prosecutors alleged during the trial.
On one of the tapes he succinctly articulated his philosophy -- "No witness. No crime."
The firebombing was cited repeatedly during the trial at a prime example of Savage's heartless and cold-blooded approach to the business of drug dealing. The victims of that arson were family members of Eugene "Twin" Coleman, a Savage associate who had become a government witness.
Authorities also allege that the murder of Tybius Flowers in March 2004 was part of that pattern of intimidation.
Northington has been charged with that killing.
Flowers, like Savage a boxer and drug dealer, was scheduled to testify for the District Attorney's Office in a homicide case against Savage when he was killed. Without its key witness, the DA's case collapsed. Savage was acquitted.
Northington is charged with one other homicide, but not the firebombing.
Kidada Savage is charged with arranging the arson by relaying messages from her imprisoned brother to Lamont Lewis, a drug dealer and underworld hitman who worked for the Savage organization. Merritt, Lewis's cousin, is charged with taking part in the firebombing.
Lewis, 37, testified for the prosecution in the case under a plea deal in which he faces a sentence of 40 years to life. He said he recruited his cousin to help after Savage ordered the firebombing in a coded phone message from prison on Oct. 8, 2004.
Lewis testified that Kidada Savage provided the specific details later that day and drove him past the Coleman rowhome on North Sixth Street. Lewis testified that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the home at the time they threw two gasoline cans into the house. The explosion set off the fire in which Coleman's mother, Marcella, his 15-month-old infant son and four others were killed.
In an attempt to refute Lewis' testimony, Kidada Savage's lawyers called several witnesses who said they were in the home when the Oct. 8 phone call occurred. They testified that Kidada never spoke with Lewis and never left the home with him that day.
Merritt, through his lawyer, has also denied involvement in the firebombing. In addition to Lewis' testimony, records of a police traffic stop in the early morning hours of Oct. 9 place Merritt and Lewis in a car together. The firebombing occur around 6 a.m., about two hours after that traffic stop.
Testimony in the trial ended much as it had begun today with FBI Agent Kevin Lewis on the stand and the jury once again listening in on Kaboni Savage. Two of four tapes played -- like so many of the others played during the trial -- consisted of Savage ranting and railing against "rats," witnesses who were cooperating with the government.
On one, recorded in the visitor's room of the Federal Detention Center in December 2004, two months after the firebombing, Kaboni Savage tells his sister Kidada (who had not been charged at that time and was free) to pass a message on to an associate about another cooperator.
"Tell him to fuck him up," Savage said.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.