Monday, May 13, 2013
Kaboni Savage, the cocaine kingpin who authorities said launched a reign of terror in the Philadelphia drug underworld, was convicted of 12 counts of murder in aid of racketeering today, including the 2004 firebombing arson in which two women and four children were killed.
Savage, 38, showed no emotion as the jury forewoman read the verdicts late this afternoon. The jury reading was interrupted briefly when Savage's older sister, Conchetta, screamed out in dismay.
"Bullshit," she said after the guilty verdicts, one after another, began to mount. "Bullshit ... You're killing me ... That's my family." After resisting attempts to subdue her by other family members and federal marshals, she was led out of the courtroom.
"I love you, man," she said as she finally agreed to leave.
Savage, a former professional boxer, is already serving a 30-year sentence for a 2005 drug trafficking conviction. He could be sentenced to death in the current case. A penalty phase of the trial, before the same jury, is set to begin on May 20.
Savage, his younger sister Kidada, 30, and co-defendant Steven Northington, 41, were convicted of murder in aid of racketeering. Robert Merritt, 32, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, but acquitted of six murder counts.
Savage and Northington face potential death sentences and will be the defendants in the penalty phase trial. Kidada faces life in prison.
The verdicts were announced to a packed courtroom that included dozens of federal officials. U.S. marshals lined the courtroom and stood behind each defendant. During the reading of the verdicts, which took about 20 minutes, Kidada Savage periodically put her head down on the table or had her hands clasped in front of her as she rested her forehead on them.
She and her brother exchanged glances and nods, but appeared resigned to the outcome once the forewoman had read guilty verdicts to the initial racketeering conspiracy charge. The jury of nine women and three men, selected anonymously, had spent five days deliberating. They got the case late last Monday afternoon.
Word that a verdict had been reached spread through the eighth floor of the federal courthouse shortly after 3 p.m. U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick took the verdict at 3:45. The jury sat solemnly as the forewoman announced the group's findings to each count. The jurors and most of the spectators were transfixed during Concetta Savage's outburst, but the process of reading the verdicts continued once she was removed from the courtroom.
Christian Hoey, Savage's court-appointed lawyer, declined to comment because of the pending death penalty hearing. The verdicts came after five days of deliberation by the jury which had heard testimony for 13 weeks in the high profile case.
Savage was described by prosecutors as a drug kingpin who used murder to silence witnesses and to retaliate against associates who were cooperating against him. Eight of the 12 murders in the case were tied to witness intimidation.
All four defendants were convicted of racketeering conspiracy charges, but the jury found Merritt not guilty of six separate murder charges tied to the firebombing. Merritt is already serving a 15-year sentence for an unrelated onviction.
"It would seem like an inconsistent verdict," Will Spade, one of Merritt's two court-appointed lawyers, said of the jury verdict. Merritt was only linked to the firebombing conspiracy in the indictment and the jury found him not guilty of each of the six homicides that resulted from that arson.
But it nevertheless found him guilty of racketeering conspiracy tied to the firebombing as part of the Savage drug organization.
There was little question about any of the other verdicts.
Kaboni Savage faced 16 criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy, 12 counts of murder in aid of racketeering and related arson and witness retaliation counts. He was found guilty of all 16.
Kidada Savage, who authorities said set the firebombing in motion, was charged with nine counts and was found guilty of all nine. Northington, described as a drug dealer and enforcer for the Savage organization, was charged with racketeering conspiracy and two murder in aid of racketeering counts. He was convicted of all three.
Northington was the only defendant not charged in the firebombing. He was convicted of participating in the murders of Tybius Flowers and Barry Parker, two rival drug dealers killed on Kaboni Savage's orders.
Flowers was killed in March 2004 just days before he was to testify against Savage in a murder case in Common Pleas Court. The Flowers murder in 2004 was ordered by Savage from prison as he awaited trial, authorities said, and was carried out by Northington.
Targeted in a 10-year FBI investigation, Savage was described as "pure evil" by one high ranking Philadelphia Police official and as head of one of the most violent drug gangs in the Philadelphia underworld by a top federal prosecutor.
The case was built around the testimony of nearly a dozen former associates and on nearly 300 secretly recorded conversations in which Savage discussed murdering witnesses and their families. (Several of those tapes can be listened to on bigtrial.net.)
The most egregious example of witness intimidation/retaliation, authorities said, was the firebombing of the North Sixth Street row house of Marcella Coleman, the mother of Eugene Coleman. Eugene Coleman was a Savage associate who had begun cooperating with authorities.
Coleman testified for the government in the 2005 drug trafficking trial and in the current case. The jury also heard from Lamont Lewis,, 37, a hitman and drug dealer who said he carried out the firebombing of the Coleman home on orders from Savage who was in prison at the time.
Those orders were relayed through Kidada Savage, he said.
Lewis said he recruited his cousin, Merritt, to help and that both he and Merritt threw gas cans into the house in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2004. Marcella Coleman, her step-daughter and four children ranging in age from 15 months to 15 years, died in the blaze. The children included Eugene Coleman's infant son.
Members of both Coleman's family and Merritt's family -- many of whom had attended every day of the trial -- were present for the verdicts. None wished to comment. The Merritt family routinely joined hands in prayer in the eighth floor hallway during the trial.
Lewis testified that neither he nor Merritt knew there were children in the home. He said when he confronted Kidada Savage, her response was "fuck'em."
Among the tapes played for the jury were conversations, secretly picked up in Kaboni Savage's prison cell, in which he is heard cackling and laughing about the arson and telling another inmate that Coleman, who attended the funerals, should have been given some "barbecue sauce" to pour on those "burnt bitches."
More tapes and more witness testimony are expected during the penalty phase when prosecutors argue that there are enough aggravating circumstances to justify the death penalty in the case. The jury must decide whether to sentence Savage and Northington to death or to life in prison.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.