District Attorney Seth Williams is taking heat for supposedly being dumb enough to compare a murder victim to his dead dog.
The incident allegedly happened at a Town Hall meeting Oct. 1 at the Lower Mayfair Recreation Center.
Williams, running for reelection, was touting his high conviction rate when the grieving family of a murder victim, Shane Kelly, asked why the D.A.'s office had given the two men who killed Kelly a plea bargain.
"In an attempt to display empathy, he [Williams] said, I just lost my dog this Sunday so I can only imagine what you're going through," said Brian Caputo, 20, a political science major at LaSalle University who witnessed the incident. "Those were the words that came out of his mouth."
"That's when the family got angry," Caputo said. Caputo said he was shocked by the remark, saying it showed the district attorney's "incompetency, his arrogance and attitude, and the way he talked down to people."
Williams's political opponent, Danny Alvarez, is calling on the D.A. to release a videotape of the event made by the D.A.'s staff. A spokesperson for Williams, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.
Philadelphia being the equivalent of Moscow, nobody knows and nobody cares.
Williams's opponent is Danny Alvarez, a former assistant district attorney turned criminal defense lawyer. In a press release, Alvarez described the alleged incident as follows:
District Attorney Williams started by touting his own record and passing off questions to assistant district attorneys. The crowd, however, turned hostile once the family of slain Fishtown resident Shane Kelly questioned Williams about his propensity for plea bargaining.
In the case of their family member, Shane Kelly, the defendants pleaded out for as little as 13.5 years behind bars in the armed robbery case.
Reeling from the question, District Attorney Seth Williams, in a derisive tone, likened the death of his dog this weekend to that of Shane Kelly in a vain attempt to show empathy. Naturally, this set the family of Shane Kelly into a state of shock and anger -- who also described the district attorney's office as unhelpful and rude throughout the process.
As the crowd started to turn hostile against the district attorney and his lack of sensitivity toward the family of the victim, Seth Williams abruptly halted the town hall meeting.
In his press release, Alvarez claimed multiple witnesses said the event was recorded by Theresa Marley, director of community action centers in the D.A.'s office.
Alvarez went on to rip the local media.
"Multiple news outlets, fearing reprisal, have refused to run the story without video evidence," Alvarez asserted, "despite there being multiple eyewitnesses in attendance who are willing to give their account of the story and go on record as to what exactly happened."
"I really hope this sees the light of day," Alvarez said of the alleged video. "The public deserves to know exactly what was said and what happened ... at a Town Hall meeting that was organized by the district attorney's office."
"The truth may be that the video is far worse than the eyewitness accounts."
Another witness was Dan Mulvenna, 21 of Mayfair, a student at Philadelphia Community College studying to be a history teacher.
"I was a little shocked," Mulvenna said. At the beginning of the meeting, Mulvenna said, Williams trooped in with about 20 assistants, including his bodyguards. The family of Shane Kelly showed up wearing matching green T-shirts and began questioning Williams about the plea bargain. "They were all angry."
In the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2011, Shane Kelly, 27, a pharmacy technician specialist at Jefferson University, was strolling on Berks Street with his girlfriend when he was accosted by two men who announced they were going to rob him.
Kelly refused to give them money. Then he chased the two robbers, with the help of a passer-by. During the chase, one of the robbers fired a .25 calibert handgun eight times, striking Kelly in the chest, leg and abdomen, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Kelly died later that morning at Temple University Hospital.
On Sept. 10, Ryan McManus, 21, the man who fired the gun, was sentenced to 32 1/2 to 70 years in jail, and fined $25,000. HIs accomplice, Richard Smith, 20, was sentenced to 13 1/2 to 27 years in prison, plus a $25,000 fine. Until the plea bargain, the two men were facing prison sentences of 100-plus years.
At the Town Hall meeting, Kelly's mother and sister kept asking questions. The district attorney, "visibly shaking," came closer to the family and said, "I know this can never compare, but I just lost my dog recently."
"I was like wow," Mulvenna said. The family was "just shocked. They were all angry."
Another witness was Mikhail Chertov, 19, of Northeast Philadelphia a psychology major at Penn State-Abington.
Chertov said the Kelly family "felt like the justice system cheated them."
And then Williams "had the audacity to compare the death of his dog to the death of someone's son or brother," Chertov said. "He presented himself unprofessinally and poorly."
"The family, it hit them hard," Chertov said. "You can't compare the two. He shouldn't have made that comparison at all."
After the blunder, Chertov said, the district attorney "just bailed on us because he knew he looked like a fool."
"I think he should release it [the video] and let the people judge him," Chertov said. "I'd like everyone to see the truth of this, and see who he really is."
If what they and Alvarez are saying is false, then the district attorney can prove it by releasing the video.
But don't hold your breath. From my dealings with Seth Williams, the man has a consistent response to questions he doesn't want to answer.
He stonewalls, and then runs out the door.